Sara breaking records, barriers

Published : 08 May 2024 09:40 PM

Sara Curtis will be among Italy's youngest athletes at the Paris Olympics but the teenage swimming sensation is a confident figure unconcerned about reaction to her mixed-race background.

The 17-year-old, whose performances in the pool have led to comparisons with former Olympic and world champion Federica Pellegrini, was raised by an Italian father and Nigerian mother in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy where race, ethnicity and identity are key political battlegrounds. In a country now led by the far-right government of Giorgia Meloni, racist abuse of sportspeople is a long-standing problem.

But confident Curtis, a four-time gold medal winner at the European junior championships, tells AFP she is unflustered by being a rare black face in her sport. "I consider myself lucky as I've never had anything like that (racist abuse) happen to me," Curtis says. "But if I were to ever meet someone who saw what I am as a problem I wouldn't make a big deal out of it. It wouldn't make a big difference to me because it's not my problem, it's theirs. Curtis has become one of Italy's brightest swimming prospects, qualifying for the Olympics in March with a junior European record of 24.56sec in the 50 metres freestyle.

That time was also a new Italian record, comfortably beating the 24.72sec set by Silvia Di Pietro, 14 years Curtis' senior, in the 2022 European Championships in Rome.

A month later Curtis then swam a junior world-record time of 26.08sec in the short course backstroke, shaving 0.05sec off the mark set by American Olivia Smoliga, an Olympic gold winner in 2016 and multiple world champion.

"I didn't expect it at all... I thought I was going to have a mediocre timing in April even though I was feeling good... It was really unexpected because it was a very quick time. I was flying, it was really great," said Curtis.