The expression “born on skis” fittingly describes Federico Pellegrino like no-one else. He started cross-country skiing at a very young age in his home town of Saint Barthélemy, in Val d’Aosta, where the ski-lifts had been closed down. It was easier to skate about on cross-country skis than to head down the slopes. “My hobby gradually turned into my job.”
When did you start cross-country skiing?
In San Barthélemy, where I live in Val d’Aosta, there are no ski-lifts or rather we had a few but they were closed down. I started cross-country skiing with my father and later with my brother, also because we have a strong tradition for this sport in my town. I was four years old.
When did you realize that it was your calling?
I started going out with friends. I would spend whole days skiing without pressure, just for the fun of it. Then, between the ages of 16 and 17, my enthusiasm drove me to do better and my simple hobby turned into a full-time job. That was when I was invited to enlist in the Fiamme Oro sports team. I joined the Italian national cross-country skiing team in 2011.
What qualities do you need to become a champion in your discipline?
You need endurance and speed but the mindset really matters. Our races take place over a distance of 1.5 kilometres and usually last three minutes. The best athletes are then selected until there are thirty left to face off from the quarter-finals to the final, all on the same day. Recovery times are crucial because they become shorter and shorter. There is just a quarter of an hour between the semi-finals and the final, so you have to be able to withstand the physical exertion but also the mental stress of the competition.
How do you train to stay at the top?
Preparation begins in early May, after the April holidays. I train partly at home and partly with the team at meetings, in Italy and abroad. In August, for instance, we move to Norway. We train with a variety of techniques, including roller skiing and cycling, jogging and working out in the gym, alternating athletic and aerobic training. In September, at last, we start skiing on the snow to seek technical improvements.
How can you resist so much exertion and self-sacrifice?
Skiing and training are not all hard work and self-sacrifice for me. It is not like clocking in every day. I’m also lucky that my partner practises the same sport. The added value of enthusiasm is fundamental and it was passed on to me by the people who raised me. I’m not just referring to my father and brother. I’m also thinking about my coaches, including those who trained me when I was playing football, and the music teachers who taught me to play the percussions and the keyboard. Enthusiasm has always been the foundation of everything.
What position did you play?
Striker. “Kick and run” was my style. Out of ten shots, eight ended up in the meadows, one was saved by the goalkeeper and one scored, but it was effective.
What was the best moment of your career?
Besides the satisfaction of winning the World Championship in 2017 and the World Cup in 2016 in the sprint discipline, in which only Norwegians and Swedes had won until me, the best moment was the silver medal at the Pyeongchang Olympics in 2018. Stepping onto the podium in the classic style sprint was a real feat, especially in a discipline in which taller athletes are advantaged. And I’m just 1.73 metres tall. I am stronger in freestyle but that time I really believed in what I was doing and I succeeded in the end.
What is your next target?
To continue asserting myself after having finished in the World Cup top three for five years back-to-back. And winning the World Cup again would be nice. I have set my sights on Beijing 2022. I will be 32 years old but the winner in the 2014 Olympics was also 32, so maybe the goal is not unrealistic after all. My dream is the 2026 games that will be held in Italy but there are still seven seasons to go and it is a little early to think about them now.