Massimiliano Rosolino: when swimming becomes a pop phenomenon

Massimiliano Rosolino has been awarded the XXVII Fair Play Menarini International Award in the “Sport Promotion” category. He epitomizes perfectly the role of a swimming ambassador, excelling in the sport while inspiring others and promoting inclusivity.

His life has been marked by a series of triumphs, but also by diverse experiences outside the realm of sport, always approached with joy, curiosity, and optimism about the future.

Born in Naples in July 1978 to an Italian father and an Australian mother, Massimiliano Edgar Rosolino split his youth between Italy and Australia, experiencing contrasting lifestyles. His love for water and swimming, however, remained a constant in his life, both in Naples and Sydney.

Rosolino’s talent was evident early on, clinching his first silver medal in the 200-meter freestyle at the European Youth Championships in Pardubice, Czech Republic, in 1994, at the age of 16; even then, it was clear that the world was going to be talking about him.

The following year, he secured three gold medals at the European Youth Championships in Geneva. In 1996, he made his debut at the Atlanta Olympic Games, finishing sixth in both the 200 and 400-meter freestyle events, solidifying his status as a prominent figure in Italian sports.

(Al Bello /Allsport)

Over the years, Rosolino’s prowess continued to grow, culminating in a significant silver medal at the Perth World Championships in 1998. Subsequently, he made a bold decision to move to L’Aquila, in order to train closely with his coach while pursuing higher education. From that moment on, his main focus was preparing for the Sydney Olympics.

In Australia, a place he holds dear, Rosolino dominated the competition, claiming the gold medal in the 200-meter individual medley and setting an Olympic record, sparking what became known as the “boom azzurro” (blue boom): a surge in popularity of water sports in Italy, a milestone that propelled the entire movement and continues to this day, thanks to his contribution as well.

From that moment on, his energy infected everyone: swimming in Italy became a pop phenomenon, garnering both media attention and fan appreciation.

Fair Play means playing by the rules without complaining,” he said at the Fair Play Menarini International Award ceremony. “Promoting sports means promoting the main principles to become a champion. To become excellent and win an Olympic gold, you have to make many sacrifices. But to truly become a champion, you have to be fully dedicated to leading by example, especially those who may have less understanding or passion about the sport, because they could become the champions of tomorrow.

His success continued at the 2001 World Championships in Fukuoka, Japan, where he secured gold in the 200 meters, completing the Grand Slam and earning first place in all three major category events.

Rosolino also played a pivotal role in Italy’s performance at the 2004 Athens Olympics, helping the team secure its first Olympic medal in the 4×200 freestyle relay, together with Magnini, Brambilla and Cercato. Despite tough competition from the American team, led by the phenomenal Michael Phelps, and the Australian team, that was considered unbeatable, the Italian team earned a historic bronze medal.

(Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)

His career continued through a long list of competitive challenges that he faced with determination, spirit of sacrifice, and perseverance. Following his retirement in 2008, Rosolino embarked on a new journey as an ambassador for the universal values of sport worldwide.

Energetic, innovative, and always eager for new experiences, Rosolino has thrived while delving into unfamiliar territories. Initially, he pursued a coaching career, guiding young swimmers on their paths to success. He then embarked on a remarkable journey into the world of triathlon, an endurance sport that blends three disciplines into one; and lastly, he transitioned into television as well.

In March 2018, Rosolino achieved one of his most gratifying moments: his induction into the CONI Walk of Fame, situated at the prestigious Foro Italico in Rome. Similar to the renowned stars of Hollywood, his name is now written on the tiles alongside other Italian sports icons, ensuring that their successes will forever be etched in the hearts and minds of fans.

It’s nice to be on the Walk of Fame of Italian sports and to relive the moments that changed the course of my life. There are many races that were important to me, though maybe less remarkable for the general public. The Olympic race, however, is a childhood dream come true” he recounted on stage in Fiesole in July 2023. “You’re there to try along with the best swimmers in the world. Winning makes you equal to others, and I’ve certainly played all my cards.