Viola Valli Honored By The International Marathon Swimming Hall Of Fame
Viola Valli won two major titles: the 10 km race at the 2003 FINA World Open Water Swimming Championships and the 25 km race at the 2001 FINA World Swimming Championships. In both races, she beat her fellow International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame Honor Swimmers Edith van Dijk and Angela Maurer.
The former world-class distance swimmer in the pool competed in five international marathon races in four years starting in 2000 – and she took a first or second in all of them (4 FINA World Open Water Swimming Championships and 1 FINA World Cup). Despite her short open water swimming career, Valli remains one of the most successful women in FINA Open Water World Championship history. She was the first swimmer to be crowned a world champion in the 5 km, 10 km and 25 km distances, winning 12 FINA World Championships medals (in the 5 km, 10 km and 25 km individual and team races).
Ned Denison: Tell us about your pool swimming career.
Viola Valli: I started swimming when I was 3 years old, but only when I came of age I was able to find out that I could achieve more as a middle-distance swimmer, thanks to qualified and helpful coaches with a great desire to win. My coaches and I trusted one another and contrary to the earlier part of my swimming career, I was able to emerge with abnegation and perseverance.
I took part to the Universiade in pool mid-distance races achieving 4th place and I took part to the Mediterranean Games getting on the podium. I was also able to win several Italian Championships.
Ned Denison: What was your motivation to move up to marathon swims? Whose idea was it? When did you decide?
Viola Valli: I liked making the effort. During pool workouts, I was already able understand that anything that involved endurance was suitable for me. I had a very strong mindset. I needed to train hard to compensate for the fact that I wasn’t physically gifted like my opponents. In addition, I loved the sea and Mother Nature, the sunshine, and the open spaces. Surely, open water swimming was more suitable for a free soul like me. My coach at that time then gave his contribution showing me the way.
Ned Denison: I can’t remember a swimmer doing no important marathon races – then going to a world championship and standing on the podium. How did you do that? Did you have confidence to start?
Viola Valli: I started open water swimming not being aware of matathon races. At the beginning I just competed in 5 km races, I didn’t know anything else. I heard about marathon races, but I didn’t care. Later on, I decided to take part to my first 25 km race and it has immediately been a success. It was a challenge for me, but I was sure since the beginning to be able to succeed and I wanted to prove it to myself.
Ned Denison: Why didn’t you do more of the FINA events during the 4 years you were competing at the world championship level? Were you still competing in the pool?
Viola Valli: I know I didn’t compete enough in FINA events, but I was always used to plan my training seasons looking forward to the event that I considered to be the most important of the year (including the European Championships and World Championships). I thought that competing more frequently would have compromised my efforts. During 12 years, my workouts have been very intensive. I was used to swim about 110 km per week and also to making many race simulations. In the swimming pool, I only competed for my team. My head was only for open water swimming.
Ned Denison: You had a short career with amazing success, why did you stop?
Viola Valli: Do you think that my career was short? Winning the World Championship and being able to repeat myself has been an immense joy for me. For me, it was enough. I was 31 and I wanted to retire as a winner. To achieve what I achieved, I traveled through the fires of Hell. It has been very tough. My only regret are the Olympics, I would have waited four more years but waiting more than that didn’t make sense to me.
I would like to thank all the people who love this sport that I consider to be pure and true. I’ve been able to swim in magnificent locations, to ride very big waves, I met dolphins, sea turtles and sharks…open water swimming offers extraordinary opportunities.
Valli and her fellow inductees in the Class of 2021 will be honored sometime during 2021.
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