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Francesco Postiglione: „This World Championships edition is like the Olympics; Hungarians may advance to the finals”

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One may bump into iconic water polo players of the international field not only in the water but on the ground, as well at the 17th FINA World Championships. Many of them attend the tournament as attendants, sports directors, or simply fans, while others work as sports commentators of different media. 409-time Italian national team member Francesco Postiglione has been working as a sports commentator for RAI Sport since the World Championships hosted by Shanghai. Sixteen years ago at the European Championships in Budapest, 2001 he demonstrated his skills in the pool. This time he was amazed again and praised the Hungarian audience’s spirit of fairness of sport as well as their love for water polo. We have asked the former Olympic and World Championships contender breaststroker about potential results at the World Championships. This time he came to Budapest joined by his son.

Today it would seem impossible to repeat and accomplish all that Francesco Postiglione has achieved throughout his career in sport. He started his career as a swimmer, he took up professional water polo at the age of 18. He entered the Olympics in both disciplines and his water polo career was quite successful.

As a swimmer he attended the World Championships in Perth, the European Championships in Athens and the Olympics in Barcelona (he finished 8th in final B), he was specialized in 200m breaststroke.

As a player for Posillipo Napoli he has claimed three Italian champion titles as well as Italian Cup and Super Cup wins. He was wearing the Italian team’s water polo cap 409 times. He was European champion in Wien in 1995, a year later the Olympic bronze went to him in Atlanta. He clinched the silver at the 2001 European Championships in Budapest with team Italy after beating the host Hungarian team in the semi-final.

Photos: Máté Balogh/Bp2017

Francesco Postiglione retired from professional sport in 2008, he has been working as a lawyer for years now beside his sports commentator position at RAI Sport. He is attending the 17th FINA World Championships in Budapest on behalf of Rai Sport.

We had a word with him between two matches.

The first half of the water polo tournament is practically over now, days are flying, you had some time to evaluate the happenings so far, how do you like it in Budapest?

I am absolutely satisfied; the entire event is well-organised. I am particularly keen on the facilities, they all look impressive and huge crowds are following the events from the stands. Fortunately, it is quite common to have loads of people attending matches and races in Hungary. What is more, water polo is regarded as a national sport here, I was convinced Hungary would organise awesome World Championships. No doubt, I was right.

How many times have you attended such tournaments as a commentator now?

After I retired from sport in 2008 I had the opportunity to continue dealing with sport as a specialist commentator. In this position I attended the World Championships in Shanghai, then I was there in Barcelona as well as in Kazan. It is not mere politeness but sincere appreciation on my part to say that the World Championships hosted by Budapest are similar to the Olympics. Transportation, accommodation, welcoming athletes and media representatives are all organised and conducted perfectly, what is more, grandstands are totally packed with spectators not only in water polo matches. I have been to Duna Arena and I have watched some synchronised swimming events, I follow events in all other disciplines, as well because I am interested to see what is going on in our field of aquatics.

Is the specialist commentator position any harder for you?

I can tell you it is way easier in the water. Everything is totally different from an athlete’s perspective. As an athlete you are influenced by your emotions, you see a different slice of reality and a commentator is supposed to convey this perspective to spectators somehow. It is important that those in front of the TV shall feel close to the happenings, the team and be part of the event. Having extensive experience as a player I strive to convey such feelings authentically.

Apparently you enjoy this role.

I do, for sure. I enjoy and love doing this job, since through this role I can stay close to the world I spent about 20 years of my life in.

Beside this job what else do you do in your everyday life?

I work as a lawyer, I can say it is my hobby and passion combined. I am specialized in labour law and sports law so I never get bored at work.

In Hungary it has been quite typical of „golden generations” to pursue a successful career in their civilian life beside their career in sport. Does the same apply to Italy, as well?

Yes, I heard that those I used to play with back then, such as Gergely Kiss, Branabás Steinmetz and Tamás Molnár all obtained higher education degrees. In Italy, however, very few manage to graduate from university parallel to doing professional sport because there are not many institutions in support of that. Recently you can see some improvements in this field, hopefully more and more institutions will encourage professional athletes to enrol in courses. Trainings require a lot of sacrifice, so does studying. I was lucky because I found my way and interest in the field of law hence I enjoyed studying at university. When you love what you learn it makes it much easier.

It seems second to impossible to pursue a professional career in two disciplines simultaneously and do one’s studies beside sport. You managed to do so, first you did a career in swimming, then you took up water polo, did both at the same time and finally ended up with water polo.

Nowadays kids start playing water polo at a very early age, but if you ask me, children should learn to swim well before anything. A few years ago it was possible to pursue parallel careers as I did. Today it is in fact impossible. By the way, I am still keen on swimming, I follow it, this morning for instance, I watched the 100m breaststroke prelims on TV in the hotel. Swimming is my passion, even if water polo is more interesting and entertaining for me.

Do you have any favourites among Italians?

In addition to world famous athletes including Paltrinieri, Detti and Pellegrini there are several talented youngsters and since I am into breaststroke the swimmer I would point out is Nicolo Martinenghi. He may become an outstanding swimmer one day.

Let’s talk about the World Championships in Budapest. How do you see power relations?

Concerning both men and women’s field classic swimming nations are dominating now, as well. This time Serbian and American ladies are in excellent form, though. Both Hungarian teams have the potential to get to the finals, I believe they may take advantage of their group victory in determining future opponents. As for men, Croatians and Italians are both quite strong, I am not sure about Greece as of now.

In addition to the easier arrangement thanks to their group win the Hungarian team can also benefit from the home crowd’s support. You were here at the European Championships in 2001. Can you recall what it was like?

Playing in front of such a crowd was an unforgettable experience for me, fans here are not only keen on water polo but they are quite into it. We beat team Hungary in the semi-final in front of 5000 people and I still get goose bumps thinking about the applause we got from them. I had never seen anything like this in the world before, it was an amazing experience I will never forget. I played in Hungary a number of times by the way, with Posillipo we played against Újpest and Honvéd for example, in the 2000s. I always return home with nice memories from Budapest.  

Which Hungarian water polo player do you stay in touch with?

They are not so many, but I meet former teammates like Gergely Kiss, Tamás Kásás, Barnabás Steinmetz quite often when I visit Hungary or they travel to Naples. Interestingly enough, when we get to meet each other we have such a good time together as if we had last met the day before.

Your son feels at home in Hajós Complex. Did your whole family accompany you this time?

My 9-year-old son came with me and my wife and 11-year-old daughter will join us on Thursday. As the kids didn’t know Budapest before, it is a wonderful opportunity to show them around in one of the most beautiful capitals of Europe or the world. For the record, my son does sport, he swims and soon he will take up water polo...

No surprise he likes water polo...

Yes, it is quite understandable. They saw me in the pool a lot, obviously they became interested, too. However, it is very important that sport shall be a form of entertainment for kids, there should be no pressure on them. I do not force it, the point for them is to enjoy what they do.

FRANCESCO POSTIGLIONE

Born on 29 April, 1972 in Naples. During his career he played for Posillipo Napoli.

Lawyer, TV specialist commentator.

Achievements: Olympic bronze (1996), World Championships silver (2003), European champion (1995), European Championships silver (2001), European Championships bronze (1999) in water polo.

He entered the Olympics four times: back in 1992 as a breaststroker in Barcelona, then as a member of the Italian national water polo team in 1996, 2000 and 2004.