Feature | Artistic Gymnastics

Giorgia Villa relishes Buenos Aires 2018 golden memories: 'I still have goosebumps!'

The 3-time Youth Olympic Games gold medallist leads a competitive generation of Italian gymnasts who won a historic team bronze at the Worlds in Stuttgart.

By Alessandro Poggi ·

Giorgia Villa was the undisputed star of the artistic gymnastics girls' events at Buenos Aires 2018.

The Italian won three individual gold medals (including the all-around title) and a silver.

Her YOG success followed impressive results achieved only a couple months earlier at the Junior European Championships in Glasgow, where she collected three golds - including the beam, her least favourite apparatus - and two silvers.

Since then, Villa has made her senior debut and has continued to reach event podiums.

Along with Asia and Alice D'Amato, Elisa Iorio, and Desiree Carofiglio, Villa contributed to a historic bronze for Italy in the team event at the 2019 World Championships in Stuttgart.

The result in Germany was the first podium finish for the nation in the competition for 69 years (Basilea 1950).

A few days earlier, 'Le Fate' ('The Fairies'), as the women's Italian team is called, also punched their ticket for Tokyo 2020.

With the Games postponement and an additional year to prepare and develop, Villa is leading a new competitive generation who can even dream bigger ahead of the next Olympics.

Two years on from her breakout YOG success, the 17-year-old spoke to Olympic Channel about her memories of the event, and hopes for the future.

Villa: How Youth Olympic golds set me up for precious world champs medal

Italian gymnast Giorgia Villa won 3 gold medals - vault, floor, and all-aro...

Buenos Aires memories

"It's all been so exciting. I had never been in an Olympic village before. It was my first time. I thought, 'In Tokyo it will be even better!'" Villa shared, eyes sparkling with joy as she recalls the emotions of Buenos Aires 2018.

"I had a lot of fun. I worked hard in the gym to give my best during the event, and the medals were the reward for all the sacrifices I've made since I was a kid.

"The fans already kind of knew me after my performances at the Junior European Champs in Glasgow. So there was a lot of support and I didn't expect this in Argentina. During the competition, we were supporting each other, the atmosphere was great!"

"I'd love to relive the same experience all over again, even without the same results, I really enjoyed it!" - Giorgia Villa to Olympic Channel

The day of the all-around event remains stuck in her mind:

"When I entered the arena there was a lot of adrenaline, a lot of emotions. My first two apparatus were vault and uneven bars. I performed a clean exercise in both and I was happy.

"The performance on the balance beam wasn’t as good as I wanted. My overall first place was in peril, and then I started to feel anxious. I remember I asked my coach: ‘What score do I need to win gold?’

"Floor was the last apparatus. And he told me: ‘Go, do your best, give it your all, I know you’ll do well.’ So I regained confidence, and it went well. I remember the hugs at the end of the exercise, the medal…"

"I still have goosebumps! Just thinking about the gold medal, the ceremony on the podium… is something very emotional." - Giorgia Villa

"After Buenos Aires, I have more fans following me. The expectations are higher, and my coaches have become even more demanding.

"That was my last important competition as a junior, and it was the perfect way to transition to senior."

Giorgia Villa - My Buenos Aires 2018 Highlights

Watch the 16-year-old Italian as she won 3 gold medals and a silver at the ...

Loving the adrenaline

Villa has been a promising gymnast since a very young age, and at 11, she left home to move to Brescia.

She competes for the prestigious Brixia club (winner of 17 Italian titles from 1998 to 2019), where she trains seven hours a day.

Her inspiration has always been fellow Italian Vanessa Ferrari, but she also admires Aliya Mustafina ("She's always elegant, even in the exercises where you need to be explosive."), Angelina Melnikova, and Simone Biles. ("Watching her train is something incredible.").

"Artistic gymnastics is my passion because it’s a very tough and demanding life and you need a lot of passion to work hard in the gym. The satisfaction is when, after preparing for a big event, you get a medal or a positive result," Villa admitted.

"The floor is the apparatus that excites me the most: I enjoy the music, the support from the fans...I also enjoy the adrenaline before an event, the preparation, the make-up..." - Giorgia Villa

"Before an event, I need to listen to some music that pumps me up, I need some positive energy...Then, when I see the arena full, I feel charged up!"

At the last World Championships, Villa enjoyed performing her floor exercise to the tune of the famous Neapolitan song 'Funiculi, Funicola':

"I like to unleash my energy on the floor, that's what excites me, and I love when the audience feels involved."

The Italian team celebrates a historic bronze in Stuttgart. Credit: Simone Ferraro

The 'Fairies' making history

Villa trains in Brescia with other three members of the Italian team. They are known as le ‘Fate’, the ‘Fairies’:

"Being part of a strong team represents an additional motivation for me. Sometimes, a teammate gets better than you, so you want to catch up with her to overtake her and so on… This is very motivating."

Winning bronze in Stuttgart with them represents the biggest achievement of her career so far:

"That medal is so precious, I always dust it and keep it clean in my room! We didn’t expect it at all," Villa revealed after reliving the emotions of that day.

"We all made mistakes in the beam during the qualifiers. So we knew we could do better in the final. We saw other teams making mistakes, like China in the uneven bars, so we started to believe in a medal. We were making mental calculations and we were all sweating while performing the last exercise, the balance beam.

"When we saw ‘Italy third’, we shed tears of joy!"

A result that at that time felt like a historic achievement, but now Villa prefers to see it as a starting point:

"After Vanessa's (Ferrari) achievements, Italian gymnastics has increased its visibility. Then, individual results have pushed the whole team to do better and in the last few years the Italian gymnasts have become more popular."

"Italy is currently the third best nation in the world and in the next big events we’ll need to defend our position, if not improve it."

Vanessa Ferrari (C) celebrating her all-around gold medal at the 2006 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Arhus, Denmark.

In the footsteps of Vanessa Ferrari

Vanessa Ferrari put Italy on the map in gymnastics when she won the 2006 World all-around title. She's close to qualifying to her third Games in Tokyo and Villa is looking up to her.

"Vanessa Ferrari is an idol…She’s a warrior, she never gives up," she says. "When I injured my Achilles in 2017, I took example from her who had the same issue. She’s always helped me. She’s older, she’s more experienced and an example on and off the gym.

"When I moved here and I started to train with her, she's always super focused. She doesn't talk much, but she leads by example."

While Italy has booked a place for Tokyo, the 17-year-old will know next year if she's going to be selected.

"Going to the Olympics would be making a dream come true," said Villa. "If I can go with Vanessa, my idol since I was 3, it would be even a bigger emotion!"

Anatomy of a Gymnast: Is Vanessa Ferrari the most flexible athlete?

Former World Champion and Olympian, Vanessa Ferrari, takes time away from t...