Feature | Athletics

Larissa Iapichino: What I have learned from 'mamma' Fiona May

At just 18, the Italian has achieved impressive results, drawing comparisons with her mother Fiona May, three-time world champion and Olympic medallist.

By Alessandro Poggi ·

Some athletes are destined for greatness from their first few steps.

And Larissa Iapichino looks like one of them.

The Italian long jumper burst onto the international scene in July 2019, when she won the Under 20 European title only a few days after turning 17.

After beating several U18 and U20 national records, that jump took her into her country's top ten best performances ever at senior level.

Since then, she has continued to progress and make headlines in the sport, emulating the feats of her mum Fiona May, a former long jump world champion and two-time silver Olympic medallist.

Iapichino is now considered one of Italy's most promising athletes and her achievements drew inevitable comparisons with her famous mother.

But this talented girl is used to being in the limelight since she was a toddler, when she starred with her mother in a 'Kinder' commercial on Italian TV.

Now she's moved from chocolate eggs to breaking mamma's records.

“The best is yet to come” is the mantra she keeps repeating with her sights firmly set on Tokyo 2020.

Larissa Iapichino jumping to the European U20 title in Boras, Sweden

Talent in the genes

Fiona May, who originally represented Great Britain before switching allegiance to Italy after her marriage in 1994, is not the only parent who gave Larissa a strong genetic predisposition for athletics.

Her dad Gianni, who coached his wife, was a five-time Italian pole vault national champ.

They named her daughter after Larisa Berezhnaya, a former indoor world champion from USSR and Ukraine, who was the rival of May during the ‘90s.

Born in Florence in 2002, Larissa practised artistic gymnastics for eight years, before switching to athletics.

"I used to train six days a week. Gymnastics taught me dedication and commitment, even if my level was low. I still have the posters of Vanessa Ferrari and Carlotta Ferlito in my drawer," she told Gazzetta dello Sport.

In 2015 she fell in love with track and field after watching Genzebe Dibaba smashing the 1,500m world record at the Diamond League meeting in Monaco: “It was love at first sight," the 18-year-old remembers.

"When I entered the stadium, it felt like that environment was my home."

A quick rise

The Italian started to compete in hurdles, adding long jump to her repertoire later on.

But soon her talent as 'lunghista' (Italian for long jumper) emerged and she made her first major breakthrough in the summer of 2019.

At the U20 national championships in June in the southern Italian town of Agropoli, the long jumper improved her personal best four times (from 6.38 to 6.64m), jumping farther than her mum at the same age.

Then one month later in Boras, Sweden, Iapichino began to emulate her mother by becoming U20 European champion.

She was the youngest athlete in the field and managed to get the upper hand despite facing more experienced rivals in rainy conditions.

"I felt the same joy when I won the gold medal in Birmingham 32 years ago," the now 50-year-old Fiona May said to the World Athletics website.

The 6.80m recorded in Savona, Italy, this July was at that time the world's second longest jump of the year.

Larissa looked unfazed after adding 16cm to her personal best and she explained why to Sky Sport:

"I didn't think it was a good jump. Then when I saw the results on the screen I was impressed, because I gave some centimetres away on the takeoff"

The Italian record, held by her mum of course, stands at 7.11m: "I still have big margins for improvement," the new national champ said.

"Records are meant to be broken and she (my mum) keeps encouraging me to beat her record, it wouldn't bother her."

Larissa and Fiona

"Mamma is mamma, how can I avoid talking about her? She's very anxious when I compete, she screams, she jumps, at the U20 European championships in Boras I couldn't stand her!," Larissa revealed to Corriere della Sera.

The 18-year-old is very close to her mum, listens to her advice, but admits she prefers not to talk about athletics at home.

"I went to watch her jumps on Youtube out of curiosity and we have two completely different styles," she continued.

"The comparison is inevitable, but a bit pointless, because we are different and we competed in different eras," Iapichino told Italy's news agency AGI.

"She says that if she was born during this time, she could have done much more, because of the better facilities and equipment."

But while supporting her daughter, the Olympic silver medallist from Atlanta and Sydney tries not to put any additional pressure on her.

She's been following her recent competitions from home and when she turns up at the track, she refrains from talking to the cameras to avoid taking the attention away from Larissa.

Fiona May is a proud mother though and she's the first one to celebrate her young 'heir' on social media.

"The road is now very long. There will be ups and downs but what matters most is that she has passion," she commented.

Sleep, Peaky Blinders and Bolt

Larissa is a teenager full of vitality, but managing her energies is important for her.

"One hour and a half before a competition I sleep for around 30 minutes," she recently revealed in an interview.

When she's not training, Larissa follows fashion, music (The Weeknd is her favourite artist along with Machine Gun Kelly and Dua Lipa) and loves dancing ("I go to the night club with my friends, but not when I have to prepare for an event or I have an exam at school").

Like mamma Fiona, she's a huge fan of her home football team Fiorentina and an avid watcher of Netflix: 'Peaky Blinders' and 'The last dance' are her favourite TV series.

Born the same day as Noah Lyles (18 July), Iapichino's sporting idols are Michael Jordan, Allyson Felix and Usain Bolt.

Eyes on Tokyo

After the postponement of the Games to next year, Larissa feels the Tokyo Games getting ever closer.

She admitted that it's an opportunity she needs to take advantage of.

"At this point it's a goal for me: the minimum to qualify is just 2cm away, even if we are currently outside of the qualifying window.

"I would be 19 like my mum in Seoul."

Fiona May went on to finish sixth in her Olympic debut in 1988. Her daughter doesn't want to put limits to her ambitions:

"In every situation I always strive for the maximum results, it's been like that since I was a small kid. This is my mentality: I never stop, I always look beyond."