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The Great “Little Italian” Nones

Jun 12, 2024·FIS 100
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7 February 1968, the Grenoble Olympics. The 30 km cross-country skiing event was on the programme and the expectation – as ever – was that a Scandinavian or Russian would take gold. After all, it had been that way since the start of the Olympic Games. On this day, though, Nordic skiing was to experience something new.

Franco Nones was an unlikely contender for Nordic medals. Not only was he Italian, but the man from Castello di Fiemme in Trentino had also started his sporting career as a cyclist. Before the age of 20 he had switched to winter sports and become Italian champion – the first of 16 national titles.

Nones had shown his international potential at the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, finishing 10th in the 15km race, and at the 1966 World Championships, where he took bronze in the 4 x 10km relay. He was experienced, trained: "pronti alla morte", as the Italian national anthem goes. But Olympic gold? Was it possible?

"It was a beautiful day, the temperature was perfect, it was almost impossible to prepare the skis badly or incorrectly," Nones recalled of the race of his life. After ten kilometres he was 30 seconds ahead of the field, after 20 kilometres he was still four seconds ahead of the Finn Eero Mäntyrantha. "At that point I knew that everything was going well and that sooner or later my opponent would have to fall back.” And so it was, with Mäntyranta finishing in third and Odd Martinsen (NOR) almost a minute behind of Nones, who became the first Central European cross-country skiing Olympic champion in history. The "little Italian" (as he was called due to his 1.7 metre stature) was the greatest.

Even after his competitive career ended, Nones remained connected to his sport and the FIS family, playing a key role in Val di Fiemme hosting the Nordic World Ski Championships in 1991, 2003 and 2013. Thanks for all the great moments on and beside the tracks, campione!