ROME, Aug. 7 (Xinhua) -- When the Italian 4×100 meters relay team took home the gold medal on Friday, it was a new benchmark in what one key observer called a "magical summer" for sports in Italy.
With a day to go before the closing ceremony, Italy has already won 39 Olympic medals, 11 more than the Rio Games in 2016 and three more than the previous national record from 1960, when the Italian capital of Rome hosted the Games. The total also puts the Italians seventh in the standings based on overall medals, the highest for any country in the 27-nation European Union.
But the story goes beyond the number of medals: it is the specific medals the team has won. Friday's relay victory was Italy's first in any Olympic relay, for men or women. Earlier, Italian sprinter Marcell Jacobs won the 100 meters event, the first time an Italian has even qualified for an Olympic 100m final.
Within minutes of Jacobs' win, Italian high-jumper Gianmarco Tamberi was declared co-champion in the high jump along with Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar. Tamberi was the first Italian ever to earn a medal in that event.
Also on Friday, Italian Luigi Busa won gold in the 75-kilogram karate competition and Antonella Palmisano won the women's 20-kilometer race walk a day after her compatriot Massimo Stano won the men's version of the event.
"In Tokyo, we are writing history, an all-Italian history," Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio told Italian reporters. "How much joy the Azzurri (a nickname for Italian sports teams) are giving us. Heart, pride, and a lot of grit."
The Olympic success comes just weeks after the Italian national football team won its first European championship since 1968, while Italian tennis standout Matteo Berrettini narrowly lost in the final of the storied Wimbledon tennis tournament, the first time an Italian ever made it to the final in the 144-year event history.
"So far this has simply been a magical summer for Italian athletes," Pippo Russo, a sports sociologist and the author of multiple books focused on the cultural aspects of sports, told Xinhua. "We are riding a wave of success that none of us want to end."
Tiziano Pesce, president of the Italian Union of Sports for All (UISP) agreed, referring to the country's sports-related success this year as "incredible, impossible, outstanding."
The sports-related success is a welcome dose of good news for a country that has suffered greatly over the last year and a half as the first European country hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic followed by a crushing economic slowdown the country is only now emerging from.
Russo said the kind of sports-related success produces a "feel-good factor" that can have a spill-over effect in other areas. Michele Costabile, a professor of marketing at Rome's LUISS University, told Xinhua that national pride created by the athletic success can also help unify an often polarized country and amplify other factors, like the country's newfound political stability under Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Italy's success with its coronavirus vaccine rollout.
That pride is evident at LUISS University, which counts three of Italy's Olympic medalists among its student body: Tamberi, the high jumper, and gold medalist rower Federica Cesarini and silver medalist fencer Luca Curatoli.
"I think this level of success will have an impact on the self-confidence of all Italians to a level we haven't seen in decades," Costabile said. He said that self-confidence could ultimately impact economic growth, consumer and business confidence, and overall faith in institutions.
UISP's Pesce told Xinhua the sports success stories could also have a big impact on future sport-related success stories.
"My hope is that these victories will help spark interest and investment in youth sports leagues and developmental programs," he said. "It would be a shame if all these great victories brought us all joy this summer and then that was the end of it. I hope we will look back at the summer of 2021 as the start of a new era for Italian sports." Enditem