The Life And Times Of Olympic Swimmer And Panerai Ambassador Mr Gregorio Paltrinieri

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The Life And Times Of Olympic Swimmer And Panerai Ambassador Mr Gregorio Paltrinieri

Words by Mr Chris Hall | Photography by Mr Valentin Hennequin

4 November 2020

Mr Gregorio Paltrinieri

The life of a professional athlete is one of schedules; everything revolves around the next tournament, the next meet, the next championship. Training programmes are meticulously arranged to ensure peak performance at the right time – and in an Olympic year, doubly so. Every pre-dawn December start, every hour in the gym, every social sacrifice: it all adds up, and that, every athlete knows, can be the difference in the heat of competition. An extra half a second here, a metre there; the edge that it takes to seal the win.

It is hard to imagine, then, what it must have been like for the thousands of Olympians around the world when they heard the news that the Tokyo 2020 games would be postponed, despite its grim inevitability. When put to Italian swimmer Mr Gregorio Paltrinieri, gold medallist in Rio 2016 (in the 1,500m freestyle) and Panerai ambassador in his homeland, his reaction is more measured – perhaps, we will admit, more mature – than you might expect.

“It’s not simple to explain,” he says. “For four years, I had based my training on a single goal and when everything was postponed, obviously the news shocked me. But I was super excited about having one more year of training. From that moment on, however, I found the strength and the right incentives to start over again by exploiting that situation in particular to make important changes in my life and my preparation. I took the decision to change my coach, which was a very important choice for me.”

Mr Paltrinieri is a phenomenal swimmer; a world and European record holder in various distances, and only the fourth athlete to ever take Olympic gold for Italy in the pool. He specialises in the 1,500m freestyle, but has enjoyed success from 800m to 5km, too. Now 26, he already has a decade of international podium finishes to his name, and would have been hoping to add to his tally of Olympic medals this summer.

He cites the atmosphere in the 2016 Olympic village as a particular highlight, the memory of the race itself – 14 minutes and 34.57 seconds of exertion – dissolved by time and adrenaline. “The pre-race tension is always there, it must be there because it means that you are alive and ready to fight,” he says. “I love and live for those moments.”

Typically when sportspeople describe themselves as competitive, it’s putting it mildly – frankly, it comes with the territory. But it’s hard to imagine Mr Paltrinieri as the kind of person you’d have to hide the Monopoly set from at Christmas. Growing up in the town of Carpi, near Modena in Northern Italy, it was his dad who fostered his love of the water.

“My father has always been in the world of swimming and swimming pools,” he says. “He immediately ‘threw’ me into water, teaching me how to swim at three years old. Then, as I grew up my passion for this sport also grew.”

It was soon obvious that the young Mr Paltrinieri had a natural affinity for swimming, but he says it wasn’t until the national championships, aged 13, that the realisation that he could turn this talent into a career sank in. So began a relentless programme of training and travel; throughout his teens and twenties, Mr Paltrinieri clocked up more stamps in his passport than the most dedicated backpacker.

However, he laughs at the idea that pro swimming is a fast track to see the world. “I am a little globetrotter, and yes, sports life does lead you to travel a lot, but often you have no way to fully enjoy a place,” he says. “It is nice to have time to discover places where you may have already been, but only for a short time. Australia is for me the best.”

Despite a daily schedule that includes at least five hours swimming and an extra hour in the gym, he’s still happy to wind down with – yes, you guessed it – a swim, either in the pool or at the beach.

You get the impression he relishes the chance to step out of his training gear into something a bit more stylish (Prada is a firm favourite). “I like fashion, research and follow the trends of the moment,” he says. “But I also like to create my own style by mixing different things.”

As befits any Italian gentleman, a watch is an essential part of his outfit, and he’s not shy about putting his Panerai through its paces, either. “The fit and comfort are very important because I always wear the watch, even during my workouts in the pool or in the sea,” he says. “I need something that I can wear everyday also with a tracksuit on. It must be part of me without hindering me or preventing my movements. Obviously, [then] there are questions of reliability, resistance and impermeability.”

The models Mr Paltrinieri wears here – notably the Luminor Marina Automatic and Luminor Base 8 Days, both in stainless steel, and Carbotech Submersible Automatic – all come with Panerai’s maritime pedigree, but can more than hold their own out of the water. Each offers versatility and adaptability to numerous situations, for those occasions when the wearer is fully dressed on dry land.

Mr Paltrinieri is clearly a man with an eye for detail – alert to form as well as function – he says if he hadn’t been a swimmer, he would have studied architecture. Or, perhaps somewhat unsurprisingly given his height and reach, focused on basketball. When asked about his sporting heroes, Mr Kobe Bryant is the first name off his lips, “for his mental toughness”, followed by Mr Michael Jordan. He also namechecks Mr Mo Farah, Ms Serena Williams and alpine skier Mr Alberto Tomba, “for having changed the rules of the game”. In his own discipline, the highest regard is reserved for Mr Ian Thorpe, a man who at one time held a massive 13 world records in the pool.

On the point of whether, in a way, holding a record is the ultimate source of professional pride, Mr Paltrinieri is once again sanguine beyond his years. “Records are something, but not my main focus,” he says. “You don’t always compete against the clock and the elements, sometimes you do it against whoever set that record or against the way things were done in a different era. What I care the most is to be the best in that certain moment – records are meant to be broken, including mine...”

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