Pellegrini goes to London in pursuit of perfection

When Federica Pellegrini trots her statuesque 5-foot-10 frame

around the pool deck at the London Olympics, it might be tough for

her to keep track of past and present.

The standout Italian swimmer has changed coaches enough times to

line each corner of the pool, then there’s her ex-boyfriend and

still teammate Luca Marin, her current boyfriend and teammate

Filippo Magnini, plus her many competitors.

But it’s the one person missing that has defined Pellegrini’s

career over the past three years.

Since her beloved coach Alberto Castagnetti died suddenly in

October 2009 following heart surgery, Pellegrini has struggled to

replace a man she often referred to as a ”second father.”

A former Olympic swimmer, Castagnetti was also the head coach of

the Italian team.

First, Pellegrini turned to Stefano Morini, Castagnetti’s

assistant, but that relationship fizzled after a poor performance

at the 2010 short-course world championships in Dubai. Morini

couldn’t match Castagnetti’s charisma, and wasn’t tough enough for

Pellegrini. So she then turned to French coach Philippe Lucas, who

once trained her main rival, Laure Manaudou.

Pellegrini and Marin moved to Paris to train under Lucas, a

no-nonsense kind of guy known for wearing tank tops and multiple

gold chains around his neck. Even though Lucas claims he doesn’t

speak Italian, the pairing produced strong results as Pellegrini

defended both her 200- and 400-meter freestyle titles at the 2011

world championships in Shanghai – making her the first woman to

achieve the feat.

However, Lucas refused to follow Pellegrini back to her

preferred training base in Verona, leaving her coach-less

again.

A brief stint with Federico Bonifacenti ended abruptly when

Pellegrini made her discontent with the veteran Italian coach known

publicly, and by then Pellegrini had started dating Magnini, a

two-time 100 free world champion. So she followed Magnini to Rome

and settled in with his coach, Claudio Rosetto, even though Rosetto

specializes in sprinting.

”Clearly, after Alberto there were sentiments that went beyond

simply sports,” Morini told The Associated Press. ”Beyond the

coach-athlete relationship, they were very close. And even though

she already had experience with me – since I was Alberto’s

assistant – we probably weren’t able to create that feeling that

you need to work together as a duo. She was still thinking about

her previous setup, and I was her first coach after Alberto’s

death, and I probably wasn’t able to get fully in synch with

her.

”I remain a great fan of hers, and for the good of Italian

swimming I hope she keeps racing faster and faster,” Morini added.

”She’s very determined, very decisive. She makes decisions fairly

quickly and if she fully believes in a project she really embraces

it.”

Rosetto has also experienced the wrath of Pellegrini after she

failed to advance from morning heats in the 400 at the European

Championships in Debrecen, Hungary, in May.

”Every athlete has one coach in their life that they have a

great feeling with. She found one and he died. So a bit of chaos

was to be expected,” Rosetto said. ”She had a very strong

relationship with him, both emotionally and technically. I’m also

realizing how strong her relationship was with Alberto.”

Pellegrini is Italy’s most popular female athlete and under

constant scrutiny from both mainstream and gossip media. Her

manager denied repeated interview requests from The Associated

Press.

”She’s someone who wants the best out of herself, and she also

wants the best out of the people around her,” Magnini said.

Rosetto has had to adapt to Pellegrini’s special needs, starting

with the longer distances she races compared to his other

swimmers.

”I’ve got to spend more hours at the pool now,” he said with a

smile. ”Federica trains well. She doesn’t lack motivation. But the

field of opponents is larger now. Federica has been at the top for

nearly eight years. She won silver in Athens and she’s always been

there, been on the podium. It’s difficult for her to improve on

what she’s already done.”

As a 16-year-old, Pellegrini won a silver medal in the 200 at

the 2004 Athens Olympics. Four years later, she won gold in the 200

but settled for fifth in the 400 despite entering as the

world-record holder.

While she’s unbeaten in the 200 at major events for four years,

Pellegrini often has trouble with the 400. She cited a lack of

energy in Debrecen, but has also struggled with her nerves in the

longer race at times.

”The problem is that the 200 comes more naturally for her,”

Rosetto said. ”She needs to build the 400 more.”

However, Pellegrini will also face stiff competition in the 200

in London from American rivals Allison Schmitt and Missy Franklin,

plus French standout Camille Muffat.

Schmitt and Muffat are 1-2 in the world rankings this year. In

the 400, Rebecca Adlington of Britain will be attempting to defend

her title before her home crowd, and Muffat and Schmitt will also

be tough to beat.

If Pellegrini is worried, she isn’t letting on – even to

Magnini.

”We never talk about swimming,” he said. ”We talk about

everything else.”