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New generations, new athletics

European athletics is changing due to a new wave of migration

There are nights when the sea roars, you close your eyes and you huddle under the blankets. But the noise is deafening, deep, and prolonged. Fear is not allowed, you just have to respect the waves, read the whiteness of the foam, and smell the salt. The sea has no obstacles, no cliffs. The sea is an olfactory memory that becomes sound: unstoppable.

Anyone who tries to deny the surge of the waves is bound to be swept away by them. Anyone who doesn’t understand movement will remain at a standstill. And anyone who remains at a standstill will always be beaten. What makes up the floodtide that changes our anemic society is easily explained: determination and independence. These are the names of the waves that cover everything.

It’s not a question of geographical origin, of blood, of skin, of continent. To understand, we have to swim with the tide, hoping our arms are strong enough to keep us afloat. To understand, we must look into the eyes of a girl with colored fingernails and a captivating smile. We must follow her sinuous movements, listen to her resounding laughter, appreciate the way she trills the letter ‘r’. Her name means my joy has arrived, her name is Ayomide. It’s the detail that explains all the rest.

She runs the 400 meters hurdles, studies medicine, likes to make sure her hair looks good, has a real zest for life, and explains why the concept of hunger isn’t just about making sure you’ve munched a piece of bread. It’s about having the hunger to make it in life, come what may. A hunger for normality, rubbed in the face of other youngsters who want to have it all without lifting a finger.

Whereas she gets up in the morning to prepare food without disturbing her mother. She cleans the house before going to school. She says thank you. If she asks for something, she says please. She respects roles. She gets it all because she makes every effort to deserve it. Where Italian athletics is headed is a sterile exercise for the coaches to deal with, but where this country is headed is a question everyone needs to answer, there’s no escaping it. “I’m Italo-Nigerian.”

Ayomide Folorunso reflects on her position in the world, she wins you over with an adult depth that makes an unlikely combination with her childlike vitality. Power, pure power.

You can’t help thinking of this when you find yourself bowled over by a sheer physicality that also comes as a welcome contrast: there’s life on Mars … this girl stands out from the generalized apathy of her age group! Determined and independent, the rest seems almost like a logical consequence of these two basics.

It’s a magical formula that Yeman, too, applies to his world. A solid lightness that turns into a keystone, supporting the pillars of an arch with life on the other side. Lightness in his step, and in his soul. Without making a sound, from the Ethiopian uplands of Wallo to the Italian waters of the River Sarca. In the middle, continents, seas, mountains and the length of a runner’s repeated stride. Countless strides. One after the other, one after the other, one after the other, one after the other, with the cunning, picaresque set of his eyes. Framed by a modern tuft and an ancient smile: Yemaneberhan, the right arm of God. 

Legs at the service of the runner’s fatigue, and bearing its marks. Small whitish rivulets merge into the colors of the burnt earth: visible medals of difficult battles in which the other runners’ spikes slashed his flesh in the free-for-all of the last bend. And not only. Six brothers and two cousins from Africa, two parents moving from Milan, a house lodged on the mountainside: it’s a place where there’s no need to describe the environment in detail, it speaks for itself. It’s a village of 232 inhabitants. Plus ten. The Crippas.

It all started here, it’s as if this lightly built man has simply removed whatever happened to him before the age of five. “I reset those years.” Without sadness, but almost with amazement, his fast-moving, dark eyes open wide. And speaking perfect Italian. He wears his name on a bracelet, with the colors of Kenya. What? 

The holy rivalry founded on fatigue that distinguishes this Horn of the world seems to have no place here. “But I’m not Ethiopian.” Swish! A light, but lethal strike of the foil. The games are over, and cultural identity wins in one simple move. Anything else is just political speculation, philosophical masturbation. And if birthright citizenship can’t speak out, for purely geographical reasons, we must make room for the genius loci.

The one that’s crept under the amber skin of this man from the Trentino, who speaks with the clipped ‘s’ of the Italian north. The space he moves in – he lives alone because you have to be independent. And determined. By circular reasoning that always goes back to the start, and that sounds like a subtle but insistent warning: the world belongs to the people who want it.

That’s no rhetoric. It’s fresh blood given to ambitions. It’s not Africa against Europe. It’s not a trivial story of integration, or a selfish affirmation of racism. It’s an ancestral spirit of survival. It’s not just athletics. It’s everything! They are unstoppable surges of the tide that are not called migratory cycles but, more appropriately, meritocratic principles. When confronted with these, we’re taken aback in sheer admiration.

And to hear them roar should no longer frighten us … close your eyes, breathe in the odor of change, and tell its story. We’re capable of that – it’s all we have to do.

Credits

PH Giovanni Gallio & Sara Capovilla
TEXT Francesco Costantino Ciampa

 

March 14, 2020

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