Feature26 Oct 2022

Fantini and Mori spinning new golden era for Italian hammer throwers


Italian hammer throwers Sara Fantini and Rachele Mori (© AFP / Getty Images)

Italy has had its fair share of success over the years in jumps, race walks, endurance and sprints, but in 2022 it was the women’s hammer that emerged as the country’s leading athletics discipline.

Thanks to Sara Fantini and Rachele Mori, it was the only event in which Italy won major championship medals at both the senior and U20 level in 2022.

Fantini earned bronze at the European Championships in Munich, following on from a fourth-placed finish at the World Athletics Championships Oregon22, while Mori won gold at the World Athletics U20 Championships Cali 22.

It has been quite the turnaround for a country that had never previously won a global or continental title in the discipline. And given the huge improvements Fantini and Mori have made this year, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see both women on major championship podiums in the years to come.

Fantini’s dream of athletics success

Fantini has been involved in hammer throwing for less than a decade, but she comes from good sporting pedigree. Her father, Corrado, was an Olympic shot put finalist in 1996, while her mother, Paolo Iemma, was a javelin thrower and heptathlete. But despite her parents’ experience, Fantini was never forced into athletics.

“At the beginning I chose my own path and I focused on other sports, like tennis, basketball and horse riding,” she says. “I didn’t want to be compared to my parents and I am grateful that they didn’t force me to try athletics and gave me the freedom to choose a favourite sport. Ever since I realised that athletics could be part of my life, my parents have always supported me.”

Fantini started out in the discus, but when she improved her hammer PB from 49 to 66 metres as an U18 thrower in 2013, she started to dream big. After initially being coached by her mother, Fantini was trained by Nicola Vizzoni in 2015 and then, more recently, by Marinella Vaccari, coach to former national record-holder Ester Balassini.

“We are like a family and I have everything I need in my training facility,” Fantini says of her training group, which is based at the Carabinieri Sports Group in Bologna and includes fellow hammer throwers Giacomo Proserpio and Lorenzo Del Gatto and discus thrower Diletta Fortuna.

Balassini’s Italian record of 73.59m had stood since 2005, but Fantini improved on the mark three times in 2022, first with 74.38m, then 74.86m before throwing 75.77m in Madrid in June.

“The first time I set the Italian record in Lucca, I could not believe it,” she said. “I wanted to break the record, but I didn’t expect to improve my previous PB by almost two metres.

“To break the record twice in Madrid (first with 75.76m, then 75.77m) was also unexpected,” she added. “But the atmosphere there was great, and it shows that the work I’ve done with my coach has paid off.”

That performance made Fantini the fourth-best thrower heading into the World Championships. But, as every athlete knows, it’s one thing to rank that highly on an entry list; it’s another to match it on the results sheet.

She did not disappoint. In a competition where North American women swept the podium, Fantini placed fourth with 73.18m – the best ever result by an Italian woman in a senior global championships hammer final.

“The World Championship was a great competition, and I was very happy with fourth place,” she recalls. “My season had gone really well up until the World Championships, and everything was unexpected. I was hoping to challenge for the bronze medal in Eugene, but I had a few problems on the eve of the championships and so fourth place was outstanding in the circumstances.”

Sara Fantini at the World Athletics Championships Oregon22

Sara Fantini at the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 (© Getty Images)

She went one better at the European Championships in Munich one month later, earning bronze with 71.58m. And although she was happy to make it on to the podium, she felt she had more to give.

“The World Championships made me aware of my strength, but at the European Championships I realised that I had some weakness,” she says. “I’m happy that I won a medal, but the bronze was not the result I expected after the records I had achieved in the first half of the season. I should have approached the final in a different way. I hoped to crown a successful season with a perfect competition, but my rivals were better than me.

“The European Championships was a learning experience, and this medal confirms that I’m moving in the right direction,” she added. “But I have a lot of room for improvement.”

Mori makes history

In between Fantini’s major championship appearances, Rachele Mori was making more hammer history for Italy over in Colombia.

Having already set a national U20 record of 68.04m earlier in the season, the 19-year-old lived up to her status as the gold medal favourite at the World U20 Championships in Cali, emerging victorious with a throw of 67.21m in a competition that was delayed due to heavy rain.

“I don’t know how I managed to win in Cali – we had to stay in the call room for three hours before the final,” she recalls. “It started out as a nightmare, but I transformed it into a dream.

“When the competition resumed, I felt really good. I felt slight cramps in my calves, but I held on. I felt really emotional when I threw 65.84m in the fourth round; I felt that it was a good throw. I entered the competition as the world leader, but I had to repeat this result in the most important competition of the year.”

Rachele Mori in the hammer at the World Athletics U20 Championships Cali 22

Rachele Mori in the hammer at the World Athletics U20 Championships Cali 22 (© Getty Images)

Like Fantini, Mori hails from a sporty family. Her uncle, Fabrizio, earned world bronze in the 400m hurdles in 2001 in an Italian record of 47.54, and he was there in Cali to watch his niece strike gold.

“When I threw the winning mark, I recognised my uncle’s shout from the stands,” said Mori. “He was very emotional after the competition and even cried.”

Mori’s father was a thrower and a rower, while her brother Federico plays rugby for the Italian team in the Six Nations. And her cousin Gabriele, Fabrizio’s son, finished third in the 100m at the 2020 Italian U18 Championships.

“I’m very close to my brother, even though he has lived away from home since he was 15,” says Mori. “I follow his matches every week and I sometimes travel to Bordeaux to watch him play. He also follows my competitions from a distance.”

Mori’s big international breakthrough came at the 2019 European Youth Olympic Festival in Baku, where she earned silver.

“I’ll always remember that first international experience,” she says. “It was my first competition abroad with the Italian team and I competed against athletes who were older than me. It’s always emotional to represent the Italian team; it pushes me to give my best to honour my country.”

One year later, she set her first Italian U20 record, throwing 65.03m in Padua. Her progress has since continued, especially since starting to work with Massimo Terreni in February 2022. At various points throughout the season, Mori has also been advised by Vizzoni and fellow national coach Tonino Andreozzi.

Naturally, she also takes great inspiration from watching her friend and compatriot Fantini compete on the senior international stage.

“Sara has always been a role model, and she has given me the motivation to continue improving,” says Mori. “Throwing events have recently been very successful thanks to our results.”

Hammer winner Rachele Mori at the World Athletics U20 Championships Cali 22

Hammer winner Rachele Mori at the World Athletics U20 Championships Cali 22 (© Getty Images)

Despite being six years older, Fantini is similarly inspired by Mori’s achievements.

“Rachele’s world title was amazing,” says Fantini. “We have always had a good relationship and we push each other, so I felt very emotional when she won the world U20 title in Cali. I am so proud of her.

“Her world title deserves to be recognised for her commitment and her dedication,” adds Fantini. “Rachele embodies positive values; she is a perfect example of positivity within sport.”

Diego Sampaolo for World Athletics

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