1928 Italy: The Most Tragic Record in Sports

Women’s artistic gymnastics (WAG) has a lengthy list of tragic storylines. Many of them are widely remembered such as Elena Mukhina, Christy Henrich, and Julissa Gomez. From the 1920s to the 1960s WAG also experienced numerous tragedies. But they aren’t as widely remembered as this was the pre-Korbut era and in-depth coverage of the finer details of this time period is lacking.

In 1928 Italy won the silver medal in the WAG team competition using a team that was comprised entirely of child athletes. Whereas most associate child athletes in gymnastics with the “little girl” era of the 1970s and occurring after the arrival of Nadia Comaneci, it was actually this 1928 team from the Amsterdam Olympics that was the youngest in all of WAG history.

The insanely young ages of 1928-Italy is staggering and there are countless age records associated with it. Besides being the youngest team in WAG history with an average age of 14 years old, members of the 1928 Italian team are the 2nd, 4th, and 6th youngest Olympians to have ever won an Olympic medal. Luigina Giavotti is the youngest female Olympic medalist, as well as the youngest Olympic medalist in either gender in the last 120 years. Of the 40 youngest Olympians who have an Olympic medal, seven of them came from this team (17%) while two more members came in at #44 and #51 in the standings.

Italy-1928 didn’t just shatter youth age records, but longevity records as well. Carla Marangoni was a member of the Olympic team and competed at the 1928 Olympics when she was only 12 years old. Carla would live to be 102 years. She not only outlived every participant of the 1928 Olympics, but the 1932 Olympics as well. But then there is the age records that are tragic in nature that stem from the following fact.

Shortly after the 1928 Olympics, one member of this team died.

The gymnast in question was Bianca Ambrosetti who at 14 years & 160 days, is 37th on list of youngest Olympic medalists. She passed away of tuberculosis shortly after the Olympics. Some sources cite an unknown date in 1929, other sources including the official Olympic website list her death as occurring on November 30th, 1928.

A member of the 1928 Italian team receiving her Olympic medal

It was an unprecedented occurrence in Olympic history to have an athlete pass away at such a young age, let alone an athlete who possessed an Olympic medal. The next youngest Olympian to pass away was two years older than Bianca Ambrosetti at the time of his/her passing. Considering that there have been roughly 136,000 Olympians throughout Olympic history, most age records are separated by only a few days. One example of this, had Bianca been born just one week earlier, she would fall from 37th to 43rd on the list of youngest Olympic medalists.

To have an age record where an athlete holds the distinction by two years shows just how much of a tragic outlier this case is. Bianca Ambrosetti’s tragic record can probably be described as unbreakable as age limits has barred most 14 year-olds from Olympic competition.

Bianca Ambrosetti’s had fallen ill prior to the Olympics, but that didn’t stop the Italian team from bringing her to Amsterdam. Due to her poor health, Bianca was the team alternate. Even though she was an alternate, Bianca Ambrosetti is credited as being a full-participant in the Olympic Games. Of the five teams who competed in WAG in 1928, three of them have their alternates credited as Olympians. Italy was one of those three teams.

1928 Italian gymnastics team

As far as the IOC is concerned, Bianca Ambrosetti’s Olympic medal is every bit as valid as the medals won by Simone Biles.

The death of Bianca Ambrosetti was especially hard on her young teammates. Italy-1928 is unusual not only for the extremely young ages of the team, but the fact that every single member came from the same small town in Italy. As for the rest of the team, there is more age records to be had. Carla Marangoni was the subject of Gymnastics Bios #2. She was a member of the 1928 team, and ended up being one of the oldest medalists in Olympic history. She passed away in 2018 at the age of 102. Only 32 Olympians lived longer than Carla Marangoni. She is #7 on the list of Olympic medalists who lived the longest.

As a result, this single WAG team from 1928 is responsible for the shortest as well as one of the longest lifespans in Olympic history. Two teammates who won medals together at the Olympics, died 90 years apart. Only in the most tragic circumstances can something like that be possible. It is yet another example of an age record, and one that will likely never be broken. Hopefully, it never will.

1928 Italian gymnastics team

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