“Of course I sing the hymn. Out loud. The last verse then – we are ready to die, Italy called – even the scream. And, from there, I go down to battle ». Paola Egonu, a 22-year-old Venetian born to Nigerian parents, by popular acclaim, the strongest volleyball player in the world, Conegliano and the national team spiker, is also the patriot you don’t expect. La cousin Olimpiade, Tokyo, would not have been the same without Mameli’s flag and anthem: precocious talent, Paola has been wearing blue since winning gold at the U18 World Cup in Peru in 2015. She was 16 and also won the title of best player of the tournament. A long attendance also passed by Club Italia, between Egonu and the blue shirt, which can continue in Japan.
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How does Paola imagine the Olympics in her debut?
«I often talk about it with Miriam Sylla, who besides being my teammate in Conegliano and in the national team is my best friend. We fantasize and think that yes, the Games will be different from any major tournament we have ever participated in. I’ll be different too: I’m no longer a child. I experienced the qualifications on my skin, I have a greater awareness. Part of the dream, flying to Japan, has come true ».
Having escaped the danger of the IOC punishment, he will be able to pack the tricolor flag and the other half of the dream.
‘But do you think about it if we had to go without symbols? Playing in white, under a neutral flag, without being recognized … No, it would have been too sad ».
Do you remember the first time the kit with the Italian uniform arrived at home?
«An emotion. I was a little girl but, opening the box sent by Federvolley, I immediately realized that I was part of something special. I was born in Italy, Ambrose and Eunice, my parents, are proud to see me in blue. At first they were just a little worried … ».
«Because with the double commitment, club and national team, we would have seen each other even less. They were right, but I’m happy: a new adventure has begun for me ».
What is special about wearing the Italy shirt?
«It makes you feel responsible, but I say it in a positive sense. I also work for all the girls who dream of being in my place ».
And the hymn, why is singing it an important ritual?
«It is a precious part of our mental preparation before the match. We stand in line, we hold hands, we take the field and we line up. The music starts. On the last verse, with the scream, we throw out all the tension. From that point it is all fire: we go into battle ».
Guaranteed symbols, the unknown of the pandemic remains. How do you prepare an Olympics already postponed that one day is there, the next day is at risk and the next is about to be canceled?
«Eh it is not easy. Every time new news comes out, the Covid cases that grow in Tokyo, Japan that closes the borders, jump. We’ll go there? We won’t go there? ».
There is talk of vaccines for athletes. How do you think?
“I think it’s fair to ask us to do it so as not to experience the worry of the virus, in Tokyo, 24 hours a day. It’s the only way to protect yourself. More: it is necessary ».
The athletes who pass in front of the bands of citizens who have priority are likely to raise a fuss, however.
«It is sacrosanct that there is an order of priority in getting vaccinated, God forbid. However, the vaccine protects us and those around us. And the message of the Olympics would be important for all humanity during this pandemic: there is hope, there is sport that continues, there is a future. The Tokyo Games would be a restart for everyone ».
Sharing the Olympic experience with his cousin Terry Enweonwu, opposite San Casciano, would make it even more special.
“I’d like to, but it depends on the coach. It would be super exciting!”
Do you keep the national team jerseys?
“Jerseys, cups, trophies: it’s all in Manchester, at my parents’ house. They have a cabinet in the living room dedicated to this type of memorabilia. They are happy and it is better this way: with every move, I risk losing everything … ».
Paola confess: at the end of the season will you accept the pharaonic offer of Fenerbahce, one million euros per season to go and play in Turkey? Besides being the strongest, she would become the highest paid player in the world.
(ride) “I haven’t decided yet … And even if I had to accept, my thoughts wouldn’t change anyway: Italy is my home, blue is my shirt”.
January 26, 2021 (change January 26, 2021 | 23:32)
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