BUENOS AIRES, Oct. 10 (Xinhua) -- Growing up in the small town of Villaricca, just outside the Italian city of Naples, Gabriele Caulo is always certain about one thing. He dislikes football. With a passion.
"I hate the sport," said Caulo, a taekwondo fighter who won bronze in the men's -63kg category at the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games (YOG) on Tuesday. "I have never had any interest in running around with a ball. I've never even wanted to try it."
Growing up in a country where football is akin to a religion, Caulo dislikes team activities.
"I prefer not to rely on 10 other people," he said. "I want to train only by myself, and when I win, I want it to be entirely due to me. In football you can play well, but if the others play badly, then you lose. There's more thinking involved in something like taekwondo."
As such, it may seem strange that Caulo's coach Claudio Nolano would use a giant poster of Portugal and Juventus football star Cristiano Ronaldo to try to inspire his athlete ahead of the YOG, but there was method in this apparent madness.
"You have to give young athletes targets," Nolano said. "You have to remind them of things to aspire to. So I saw this poster and I told Gabriele, 'Look at him. Yes, he is a football player but he is the strongest, the most important. People want to be him. You need to do the same and become the strongest in taekwondo.'"
Caulo has long been frustrated that his chosen sport has such a low profile in Italy, ever since he began learning it at the age of five. He and Nolano happily daydream of an Italian taekwondo fighter achieving the same stature as the Portuguese footballer.
"I started because I was a very crazy, excitable boy and my mum was afraid for my safety because I was always breaking things," Caulo said. "So she said,'You need to go to taekwondo school and learn discipline.' I loved it, and whenever the other boys at school would ask me, 'Do you want to play football?', I would say, 'No, my legs are precious. I need them to compete and football will make them weary.'"
Caulo soon became one of the best in Europe, going on to win the European cadets championships in 2015. He watched the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on television, and tried to imagine himself competing there. But he grew frustrated at the Italian public's fickle relationship with Olympic sports.
"In Italy, the Olympics is the only time when people start to notice sports other than football," he said. "For one month only, everyone speaks about these other sports. But then it is back to football, and it is no longer interesting to watch someone kicking the heads of other people."
With the Italian national football team currently struggling, having failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, Caulo is hoping that this will fuel public interest in other sports, such as taekwondo. "It is already starting to be more popular in Italy in the past couple of years," he said. "There are more athletes, which helps me because I have more people to fight with in training, to test my strength and conditioning."
Nolano reminds him that the only way he can encourage the growth of Italian taekwondo is by building on his junior success and becoming a champion.
"I tell him if you become the best in taekwondo, then maybe one day people will want to be Gabriele Caulo," Nolano said. Enditem