At the age of 18, Nadia Battocletti has already achieved something that no other Italian woman in history has managed.
Last month in Tilburg, Battocletti became the first Italian woman to win an individual title at the European Cross Country Championships. Contesting the U20 event on the muddy course of the Beekse Bergen Safari Park, Battocletti was always in control and broke away with 500 metres to go.
She crossed the line one second ahead of world U20 800m and 1500m bronze medallist Delia Sclabas, the Swiss runner who had beaten Battocletti in the 3000m at the European U20 Championships in 2017.
“It’s a dream come true,” she said of her triumph. “I didn’t expect to win at the start of the race, but with each lap I started to believe it more and more. On the second lap I felt that my body was ready to make a move. I felt I had an extra gear in the final 300 metres and I was determined to give it my all. I didn’t think that I would have been able to stay in the lead for so long, but everything went well.
“It was a difficult race, not only because of the weather, but also because of the strong opponents,” added Battocletti, who finished fifth in the U20 race at the previous year’s European Cross Country Championships. “I dedicate the gold medal to my parents who travelled to Tilburg to support me. My father said that I was going to win.
“I was nervous before this race. But, thanks to the support of my father, I now have a more confident approach to competitions. This win has changed me.”
Inspired by her father
As the daughter of two international athletes, running has been a part of Battocletti’s life for as long as she can remember.
Her father and coach Giuliano Battocletti took bronze in the 5000m at the 1994 World U20 Championships in Lisbon, finishing behind Kenyan legend Daniel Komen. He also contributed to the Italian team’s gold medal at the 1998 European Cross Country Championships in Ferrara where he finished seventh in the individual race.
One particular childhood memory stands out.
“In 2007 my father took part in a local snowshoe running race called Ciaspolada,” she recalls. “He had a big margin over his rivals and at the end he stopped to take my hand and I ran with him for the final 50 metres. Since then, athletics has become an important part of my life.
“I owe everything to my parents and to the advice they have always given me, not only in athletics, but also in life,” adds Battocletti, whose mother, Jawhara Saddougui, was a former middle-distance runner and had an 800m PB of 2:01.
“At the beginning, my father did not want to push me and athletics was just fun. I started taking the sport more seriously when I was in the U18 category. Athletics is now my future.
“I have a special relationship with my father, who is also my coach and has a strong passion for athletics. He has taught me how to run on the track and in cross country. My mother gives me important psychological and moral support.
“My role model has always been Hicham El Guerrouj, a true athletics legend,” she adds. “He never gave up and managed to win races even when it looked as though he may be beaten.”
From the mountains to the track
From an early age, Battocletti showed promise at a range of distances across various surfaces. She also practiced other sports, such as swimming, dancing, climbing and basketball. Born and raised in the picturesque and mountainous Trentino Alto Adige area of Italy, she also excelled at mountain running and in 2017 she won the WMRA Youth Cup in that discipline.
Battocletti was the first European finisher in the U20 women’s race at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships Kampala 2017, placing 34th in her first appearance at this event. Later that year she took the bronze medal in the 3000m at the European U20 Championships in Grosseto.
“I had a very long and busy season in 2017,” she said. “I did not expect to achieve all of those results and have so many experiences at a high level. I have great memories of Grosseto where my teammates supported me over the final 100 metres. They gave me the energy to win the medal.”
She finished eighth in the 3000m at last year’s IAAF World U20 Championships Tampere 2018 in 9:13.45, the fastest time by an Italian U20 runner since 1979. She capped a successful 2018 track season by winning the senior national 5000m title in Pescara, where she became the first athlete born after 2000 to win at the Italian Championships.
“Although it was a PB, I was not completely happy with my result in Tampere,” she said. “The Italian 5000m title was a big surprise, although I was confident that I could run a good race.”
Battocletti has some big targets for the year ahead, both on and off the track.
“Studying is very important and I need to balance my life between school and sport,” said Battocletti, who will have her leaving exams in June and hopes to study architecture at the University of Trento next year.
As far as athletics is concerned, she plans to compete at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships Aarhus 2019, using it as an important stepping stone for the track season later in the year.
“I consider cross country my favourite discipline,” she says. “I grew up running races like Campaccio in San Giorgio su Legnano where I won at U18 level in 2016 and 2017. I will also run the 3000m at the Italian Indoor Championships in Ancona in February, but my biggest goal for the summer is to run at the European U20 Championships in Boras in July.”
Whether it’s down to her family background in athletics or her experience of running in the clouds, Battocletti is no longer hesitant to set herself lofty goals.
Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF