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  • Sogni D'Oro: Italy's Olympic Dreams Come True
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    AUGUST 29, 2004 -- As of this morning, Italy is ranked among the top 10 countries based on its 10 gold, 11 silver and 11 bronze medals in the 2004 Olympic summer games in Athens, Greece. What a trip it has been for the red, white and green! Here, the highlights:

    • Paolo Bettini: Known as “Il Grillo” or “The Cricket,” Bettini found cycling, thanks to his brother who is 10 years older. He captured the gold in the men's road race early in the games and set the pace for his fellow Italian athletes.

    • Valentina Vezzali: This police officer from Jesi, Italy, speaks four languages – Italian, French, English and fencing. She won the gold in the women's individual saber event – and she didn't even have to dye her hair red this time. (Vezzali went red to ward off jealousy at the 2000 games in Sydney.) Aldo Montano, an Italian from Livorno, took home the gold in the men's individual saber, proving Italy is a fencing force to be reckoned with.

    • Women's Water Polo Team: First, the Italian side was the fierce underdog and had to defeat Team U.S.A., otherwise known as Goliath. The mission was accomplished in a dramatic match that seemed more like a final than a semi-final. Then, to get the gold, the tables turned and Italy was favored over Greece, even if Greece had the home advantage. The Greeks put up a tough fight, and the Italians fell behind more than once. But in the end, victory was theirs – and the Italian national anthem was played once again.

    • Men's Basketball Team: No one cried for the Italian men's side when they received silver medals instead of gold. After all, this team wasn't even expected to medal at all. From the pre-tournament victory over the so-called U.S. dream team to its final defeat against Argentina, another underdog that rose above the American giants at a time when its country needed it most, the Italians showed courage and determination. In fact, those pieces of silver may be worth more than any piece of gold.

    • Men's Soccer Team: This side also got beaten by Argentina – this time in the semi-finals. But Gli Azzurri went on to defeat Iraq -- mere hours after guerillas in Iraq murdered Italian journalist Enzo Baldoni -- to capture the bronze and restore some faith. Besides being able to muster the courage to play -- and play hard -- after such a tragedy, this young Italian side proved forceful. The reality: This was Italy's C team. Stars like Antonio Cassano, Francesco Totti and Christian Vieri were nowhere in sight. Young and/or underrated players – from Andrea Pirlo to Matteo Ferrari – made the world pay attention to them without having practiced much together. And it was Alberto Gilardino, the one who was left off the roster for the disappointing Euro 2004 tournament, who brought Italy its first medal in soccer since the 1930s.

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