Are champions born or made? It’s a difficult question, especially in rowing, where you’re born and then become a rower. But then you have to want to become one – and with all of you. You have to have the courage to follow your dreams, even when the sacrifices required scare you. Because this is a sport for superheroes, the real type, whose superpowers are the drive behind their dream.
These superpowers are essential to achieving these extraordinary feats because in this epic world of ours they are only found with the help of a lantern. You have to train, train and train even more. And that isn’t enough most of the time, because the best don’t always win. Just those who are sure they can do it. That’s why my favourite superhero is a rower. A Dark Rower.
The Dark Rower
Looking back, there were rowers I never used to like. But then now I do. One of those athletes I exalt is Romano Battisti and the history he has behind him, which has often been more weighty than the medals around his neck. Such as the battles he has had to fight against himself and others. They tried everything to stop him, because evil even exists in the rowers’ equivalent of Gotham City.
Battisti’s story started a far away and part of the stories of those whose history was already mapped out. When Alessio Sartori won Gold at 24 years old in the quad scull at the Sydney Olympics, Romano was a young lad of 14! He watched this victory on the TV and decided he wanted to win the Olympics too. Almost twelve years later, their paths crossed. They were both members of the Fiamme Gialle squad and, with their coach Franco Cattaneo, they made a bet – to form a double to compete in London. They would train at their club, but this was only five months before the Games!
They hadn’t qualified for the Italian Rowing Federation’s Olympic “dream team”, but they worked, sweated and suffered every day, until the Sartori-Battisti double became the best – the strongest. Better than the crews put forward by the Federation. They attempted to gain qualification for the World Cup at Lucerne, in extremis. And they won in Switzerland! It was a dream come true. They came to London 2012 and the final, where they won Silver, which was equivalent to two Olympic medals. For just over seven minutes, they warmed the hearts of their fans, by giving them, and us, a dream that would never disappear.
You’d have to try to climb a mountain to truly understand the significance of what they achieved. Rowing is like an extreme climb, with bare hands. Because of the training it demands, the demands it puts on the body and mind. To begin with, nobody wanted to get in a boat with him, because he was as thin as a rake. Even now, that he’s anything but scrawny, after a few more medals to add to his list of wins, he is still testing his limits. He’s still too hard on himself.
But I admire him, because in the end, he made the right choices, after the long battle with the dark side. Every now and then, I remind him, when we talk, of the significant role he plays in the rowing world. Win or lose, it matters little – he will always be a superhero in this sport. Even when he says I’m exaggerating, he then goes and ‘massacres’ the rest of the squad. But don’t worry Romano, I’ve read the comics too. I know you have to tell me that. Your secret is safe with me – I shan’t tell anyone your real identity. So, I’ll carry on the pretence, but, please, you have to carry on as you are. Because the world (of rowing) needs you even more now!