Feature14 Jun 2024

Inspired by family and Rome medals, Furlani and Iapichino have high hopes for Paris


Mattia Furlani and Larissa Iapichino (© AFP / Getty Images)

Italian youngsters Mattia Furlani and Larissa Iapichino aren’t aiming to simply follow in the footsteps of their respective parents. They’re looking to – quite literally – go above and beyond.

Having parents who were international athletes meant that Furlani and Iapichino were both exposed to the sport from an early age. And that, in turn, has led to them both breaking world U20 long jump records and claiming major medals in the past few years.

Most recently, they both delighted the home crowds by securing silver at the European Championships in Rome – Furlani improving his own world U20 record to 8.38m and Iapichino again threatening the seven-metre mark with 6.94m.

Larissa Iapichino celebrates her European silver medal win in Rome

Larissa Iapichino celebrates her European silver medal win in Rome (© Getty Images)

“It is an important step. I am still growing in every aspect, but I am on the right path,” Furlani explained after finishing runner-up to Olympic and world champion Miltiadis Tentoglou at the Stadio Olimpico. “I made some small technical errors, but I just have to stay focused and continue to work well. A champion like Tentoglou won and that is the beauty of this sport, a challenge that spurs both of us on.”

Iapichino was also left motivated for more, after achieving her third best ever jump to finish second to another multiple global gold medallist, Malaika Mihambo.

“I had a consistently strong performance, perhaps my best series ever,” said the 21-year-old. “But I really wanted a jump over seven metres.”

From basketball to the jumps

At the age of 19, Furlani – the world indoor silver medallist in Glasgow in March – already has great experience in the sport. 

“I grew up in an athletics family,” said the teenager, whose sister Erika and brother Luca are also athletes. “I started with high jump; my father (Marcello, a 2.27m high jumper) taught me how to jump and passed on his passion to me. My mother Khaty Seck, who was a sprinter from Senegal, moulded me as an athlete in the jumping disciplines.  

“I also played basketball for five years, which improved my coordination, especially for jumping. I am proud of what my parents have done for me and their support.”

Furlani started out at his local athletics club Studentesca Rieti and showed his talent when finishing seventh in the high jump at the 2021 European U20 Championships at the age of 16. The following year he leapt 7.87m at the Italian U18 Championships, smashing the national U18 long jump record, and also won the high jump with 2.16m.

One month later he repeated that double at the European U18 Championships in Jerusalem, winning the long jump with an Italian U18 record of 8.04m and taking the high jump title with 2.15m. 

“It was like a dream to jump over the eight-metre barrier. I did not expect it and I did not even look at the display because I did not believe it. The emotions were very high,” he reflected.

That proved to be just the start. In 2023, Furlani soared to a wind-assisted 8.44m (2.2m/s) in Savona, achieving the longest mark ever by an U20 long jumper in any conditions.

“I went crazy when I saw the distance on the board. I felt like Spider-Man,” he said. “The wind measurement came out shortly after, but it did not change my reaction. What surprised me is that I jumped further than Carl Lewis in my age category. He is like a god for me.”

Mattia Furlani celebrates his world indoor silver medal win in Glasgow

Mattia Furlani celebrates his world indoor silver medal win in Glasgow (© Getty Images)

Records continue to fall

Eleven days later, Furlani jumped 8.24m to win in Hengelo, improving the Italian U20 record held by Andrew Howe, the 2007 world silver medallist who also grew up in Rieti. Not only have Furlani’s achievements earned him praise from Howe, but also from a certain Gianmarco Tamberi – the Olympic and world high jump champion – who has described his younger teammate as ‘the diamond of Italian athletics’.

Having made his global debut for Italy in 2022 at the World U20 Championships in Cali, where he again contested both the long jump and high jump, Furlani made his first senior World Championships team in 2023, a couple of weeks after winning the European U20 long jump title with a leap of 8.23m that improved the 36-year-old championship record.

He carried his impressive form into 2024. Jumping 8.34m at the Italian Indoor Championships, he missed the world U20 record by a single centimetre and improved Howe’s long-standing Italian indoor record. He took that experience with him to the major stage the following month, claiming his first senior international medal at the World Indoor Championships in Glasgow. 

At 19 years and 24 days, Furlani became the youngest athlete ever to win a world indoor medal in the horizontal jumps. And he made more history in Savona a couple of months later, jumping 8.36m to improve the world U20 record by one centimetre.

“It means that we are working well and on the right path, on the threshold of two very important events such as the European Championships in Rome and the Paris Olympics,” he said at the time.

Now, with one of those major events complete – Furlani having added two centimetres to his world U20 record to claim his silver medal in Rome – his sights are set on the Olympic Games, while he will also still be eligible to compete at another global event, the World U20 Championships in Lima, later in August.

Furlani’s medal win in Rome meant even more as it came as part of a highly successful championships for the hosts. Italy topped the medal table with 24 medals – eight more than any other nation.

Mattia Furlani in action in Rome

Mattia Furlani in action in Rome (© Getty Images)

Among his fellow medallists was Iapichino, who Furlani describes as “like a second sister”.

“We have grown up in athletics families and we are both coached by our parents,” he added, with Iapichino the daughter of Fiona May, the multiple world gold and Olympic silver medallist.

Family inspiration

Like Furlani, Iapichino – who did gymnastics before focusing on athletics – has achieved great age group success on her way to the senior stage. She won her first major long jump title in 2019 when she jumped 6.58m to get gold at the European U20 Championships in Boras, following in the footsteps of May who won the same title in Birmingham in 1987. 

Records were to follow. In February 2021, the then 18-year-old broke Heike Drechsler’s world U20 indoor record with 6.91m to win at the Italian Indoor Championships in Ancona. The mark added three centimetres to the record that had been set in 1983, 19 years before Iapichino was born, and it also equalled the senior national indoor record set by her mother in 1998.

“It was a dream come true,” said Iapichino, who went on to finish fifth at the European Indoor Championships in Torun. “The first thing I thought was: ‘I jumped like my mother’. Only later I realised that 6.91m was the world U20 record.”

Injury dashed Iapichino’s Olympic dreams that year, but the season featured an important change in her training set up, as she began being guided by her father Gianni, a multiple national champion in the pole vault and heptathlon.

“The setback helped me to bounce back,” she recalled. “There were disappointments, but they definitely gave me experience and made me grow. They are necessary. I am sure that such moments are always needed and they also help enjoy the beautiful moments when they come.”

Larissa Iapichino receives her European silver medal from her mother, Fiona May

Larissa Iapichino receives her European silver medal from her mother, Fiona May (© Getty Images)

Medals in mind

The year 2022 was one of transition and after making her senior international debut at the World Indoor Championships in Belgrade, she pulled on the Italy vest again at the World Championships in Oregon and finished fifth at the European Championships in Munich.

Returning to European Indoor Championships action in Istanbul the following March, Iapichino leapt 6.97m to secure silver and break the national indoor record she shared with her mother.

She then clinched her first Diamond League meeting win in her home city of Florence, jumping 6.79m at the Luigi Ridolfi Stadium, where she trains every day. 

“It was simply wonderful to win my first competition in my hometown,” she said. “It was like a dream to beat Malaika Mihambo and Ivana Vuleta. We are rivals on the track, but we are very good friends.”

Iapichino went on to win her second Diamond League competition in Stockolm and continued her successful season by gaining European U23 gold in Espoo, setting an outdoor PB of 6.93m. Five days later, Iapichino won her third Diamond League in Monaco with another outdoor PB of 6.95m, becoming the most successful Italian female athlete in the history of the Diamond League. 

She capped the year by finishing fifth at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, the city in which her mother won European silver with an Italian record leap of 7.11m in 1998.

And after finishing seventh at the World Indoor Championships in Glasgow in March, Iapichino switched her focus to Rome, where her podium moment was made even more special as she received her medal from her mother.

“I always try to push myself further, to improve jump after jump, competition after competition,” said Iapichino, who has the Paris Olympics as her next big goal. “I never settle, but now I will enjoy this medal.”

Diego Sampaolo for World Athletics

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