Di Centa, Manuela

Di Centa, Manuela

▪ Italian skier
born Jan. 31, 1963, Paluzza, Italy

      Italian Nordic skier who was the only athlete to win five Olympic medals in cross-country skiing at a single Winter Games (1994). A dominant force on the international level, she also won 15 World Cup events and 2 overall titles (1994 and 1996).

      A child prodigy, Di Centa was a highly regarded member of the national team by the age of 17. Following the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia (now in Bosnia and Herzegovina), the outspoken and independent Di Centa quit the sport, publicly criticizing the Italian ski federation's treatment of women athletes and their alleged practice of blood doping (a transfusion of blood that enhances an athlete's stamina and endurance) and other illegal training techniques. After changes in the coaching staff, she rejoined the Italian national team in 1987 and competed at the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, though she failed to medal.

      After a disappointing performance at the 1992 Games in Albertville, France, where she could only manage a bronze in the 4 × 5-km relay, Di Centa discovered that she suffered from a thyroid condition that had weakened her physical endurance. She underwent treatment and within two years was dominating international cross-country skiing. At the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, Norway, she captured victories in both the 15- and 30-km races. She also won silver medals in the 5- and 10-km events and a bronze in the 4 × 5-km relay. Her five medals were the most won by an athlete at Lillehammer. Di Centa won a bronze medal as a member of the Italian 4 × 5-km relay team at the 1998 Games in Nagano, Japan, after which she retired from competitive skiing. She later worked for Italian television, and in 2003 she became the first Italian woman to climb Mount Everest (Everest, Mount).

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