It’s not often you get the chance to corner an Olympic and World Champion for a chat, so when occasional pullbuoy contributor Tara Hutt found herself in Melbourne, training with Sydney and Fukuoka gold medallist Massimiliano Rosolino, the opportunity was just too good to miss.
Rosolino, or Massi to his friends, was previously a freestyle specialist, having won silvers over 200 and 400 metres at European and World level and appearing in the 1996 Olympic finals over both distances. It was a change to competing in the 200m individual medley which moved Massi on to a higher level as he took gold at the Sydney Olympics and followed that up with the world title in Fukuoka a year later. But how did the change come about? That seemed like the ideal place to start.
How and why did you change from freestyle events to the medley?
I used to swim medleys at national age groups but I concentrated more on freestyle as I got older. Then I came second in the 200IM at the Europeans in 1999, which was the year before the Olympics, with no specific training, so I thought I would have a chance at medley if I concentrated on it. So I changed my training and won gold in the 2000 Europeans and in Sydney and in Fukuoka a year later
How has your life changed since winning that Olympic gold in 2000?
Life is loads better! It has changed a lot but I feel I have coped well with it. Everyone is watching you and despite having won loads of medals prior to Sydney, I didn’t become famous until after the Olympic win. Since then I’ve started to get recognised in the street and I get asked for autographs.
How did your performance and that of the other Italians in Sydney affect the sport in Italy?
Afterwards there was a 30-40% increase in the number of people swimming and I think that Italian competitive swimmers began to have more faith in themselves
What are your thoughts on Italian swimming?
Italy has lots of talented men, which is more to do with luck than the Italian programme. There are no big expectations of our swimmers who concentrate on winning the nationals rather than international competition or posting good times. What Italy does have is individual swimmers who have the belief that they can do it at the Olympics
What are the differences between Australia and Italy?
In Australia swimming and sport is a way of life. Everyone goes swimming and can swim and everyone knows a number of swimmers. Loads more people go early morning swimming and there is so much more swimming on the television – all the nationals are televised. I would compare it to how soccer is in Italy.
Why did you want to come to Australia?
I felt I could improve here, that my concentration would be better and that there were definitely fewer distractions. I wasn’t relaxed or happy in Italy and I needed a change. I wasn’t having fun anymore so I decided to change everything which has made me really excited about my swimming again.
Why did you choose to swim with Ian Pope here at Melbourne Vicentre?
I wanted somewhere hot, but felt there wasn’t much available that suited me on the Gold Coast. When I spoke to Popey he was very excited about us teaming up and that made me excited too. Also my backstroke could do with improving and he had developed Matt Welsh’s backstroke, so I was sure he could help me.
What are your goals?
I swim to enjoy myself, to try and improve, but I know I need to be patient with my improvement. I swim to get better.
How much training did you do as a youngster?
I only trained once a day until I finished school at 18, and I was doing maybe 6-7km a day. Then I started training twice a day, but it took a while to make any big improvements and to get used to doing the double workouts
What are your favourite sets?
Anything hard! If I feel good I really like to push it. I enjoy training and racing, in fact everything!
And what are your favourite drills?
I’d never done drills before coming to Australia. No-one had ever said to me “you need to swim like this”. I’d not done heart rate sets or been shown a good stroke pattern or done any distance per stroke work. I had never even stroke counted before coming here! So all of the drills we do are great.
What are your thoughts on your main competitors?
I like to race strong competitors whoever they are. I always have big goals so I enjoy the competition.
What are your thoughts on British Swimming?
They have nice tracksuits! It appears to have dropped down over the last decade and they don’t seem to encourage swimming in schools etc. I only really know Hickman and Foster…and now Tara of course!!
Massi was an absolute pleasure to interview. He had no reservations and seemed to really enjoy talking about his swimming. The relationship between him and Pope is positive and relaxed and he was great to train with. In training he always worked so hard but was also really good fun. Massi is a character and undoubtedly a great ambassador for the sport in general.