If it were a movie, it would be one of those romantic comedies with an ending yet to be deciphered, because the protagonist grows along with the story they tell, while still writing the story itself. Day by day, year after year, edition after edition.

 

It all begins in 1984

The tale of the International Triathlon Bardolino starts in Verona on September 2, 1984. We are in the heart of the historic center, a stone's throw from the magical Roman amphitheater considered one of the wonders of Italian cultural heritage, alongside the iconic figures of Romeo and Juliet that have become symbols of the Venetian city worldwide. In a bustling Piazza Bra, there are about seventy athletes, unaware that they will soon write the first page of Italian triathlon history. The gunshot in the air will officially kick off the first edition of the Verona-Bardolino: three consecutive tests in an atypical format (running, cycling, and swimming) to crown the first true Italian multisport athlete.

At the start of the first leg - an 8.5 km run through the city center - there are big names from the water sports of those years, some novice athletes (in Italy in the 1980s, practitioners could be counted on one hand), a 64-year-old from Follonica, Mauro Lombardi (who will complete all three tests), and a woman, Anna Dondoglio, who will finish 16th overall, demonstrating that the myth of being an IRONMAN can also belong to women. Yes, because the allure of legendary feats that have been repeated for some years on the island of Kailua-Kona (Hawaii) has now arrived in Italy thanks to two sportsmen with innovative minds, with a capacity for thinking outside the common logic: Dante Armanini and Camillo Cametti.

 

From multisport athlete to the patron of a legendary race, the myth of Dante Armanini

Cametti and Armanini. Camillo and Dante. Two friends, two enthusiasts, two visionaries: it sounds like the oldest story in the world, but it's the one that sparked the big bang of the International Triathlon Bardolino. The first - Stella d'Oro of the CONI for Sporting Merit and a seasoned journalist - is an honorary president of the Italian Triathlon Federation with a past as a counselor of the Italian Swimming Federation, as well as the president of the Press Commission of FINA (now World Aquatics), always committed to increasing the visibility of swimming and triathlon. The second, Dante Armanini, was one of the participants in the first edition of 1984, a multisport athlete by vocation: from successes in cyclocross to those in duathlon. Today, he embodies the mind, soul, heart, and engine of the event.

Camillo Cametti, who is also a member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame, often reminds us that triathlon arrived in Italy thanks to the inspiration he had while on the return flight from the Los Angeles Olympics '84 (where he heard about the IRONMAN in Hawaii and the multidiscipline) and that together with Dante Armanini - always a volcano of ideas - and many other friends, they were the first to create what would later become the Olympic distance.

 

Already after the first edition of 1984, on September 17, 1985, Il Corriere della Sera stated: "Bardolino del Garda will host the second triathlon event. Among others, Guarducci, Masala, Masullo, and the Olympic champion of the 100 km Poli will compete". Great names for a race born just the year before, of a sport that few knew about then. Over the years, the event has become increasingly beautiful and attractive, and today it attracts almost 2000 athletes from all over the world (with 22 nations represented in 2023).

Paolo Cantoni and Anna Dondoglio, Danilo Palmucci and Elena Dugono, Walter Carnovali and Mirella Gandellini, Alain Dallenbach, Gianpietro De Faveri, and Fabrizio Ferraresi, Silvia Riccò, Edith Cigana, and Francesca Tibaldi are some of the names that have enriched the event's hall of fame of the last millennium, protagonists of a pioneering triathlon, consecrated only with the Olympic Games of Sydney 2000. The list of champions crowned in Bardolino in the 2000s is decidedly long; we limit ourselves to mentioning the multiple winners who competed in the Olympic Games: Vladimir Polikarpenko (6 wins), Tamas Toth (2 wins), Nadia Cortassa, Beatrice Lanza, and Lenka Radova (2 wins).

 

The recent history of the International Triathlon Bardolino: big numbers, great athletes

Swimming, cycling, and running bring us to 2015, the season in which the Bardolino International Triathlon reaches its maximum capacity of 1580 athletes at the start. The transition area, set up inside Parco Carrara, does not allow for additional space, but it is on this occasion that patron Armanini goes above and beyond, driven by the desire to welcome all the triathletes who have expressed their willingness to participate in the race. Thus, he involves a setup company from Mantova and convinces them to accomplish the impossible with a simple yet challenging phrase: "Do you want to make history in triathlon?". Thus, the legendary two-story transition area is born, which in 2016 and 2017 welcomes 2000 athletes, arousing the interest of the organizers of the IRONMAN World Championship in Hawaii.

 

Great numbers, steadily increasing, characterize the Bardolino race, nicknamed the Kona of the Olympic distance. In 2023, for example, nearly 13,000 water bottles were distributed, 2 kilometers of barriers were set up, 8 artificial bridges were built (to ensure and facilitate the passage of spectators and pedestrians and allow the athletes engaged in the running leg to "cross over" the cycling course), and 80 square meters of supervised bag storage were provided. To these figures, add the 50 minutes of helicopter flight for aerial TV and photo shoots, 1 LED wall to allow the audience to better follow every moment of the race, the pre-race carb load, the live DJ set throughout the event day, and the grand pasta party with 1500 sandwiches, 100 kg of pasta, 4 different types of fresh fruit, 10 large homemade pies, and the large 3D-themed triathlon cake made by a local pastry chef.

 

Bardolino, a family tradition

In addition to innovation and the idea of ​​always creating something unique, what characterizes the Bardolino race even more is tradition, an important aspect in the Armanini family. For several years, in fact, supporting the great organizational machine is also Marica Armanini - Event Director - whose words reflect all the energy of her uncle Dante: "Bardolino is a tradition of the Armanini family. I started to breathe the air of triathlon at the age of 10, lending a hand where needed: refreshments, race packs, registrations, etc. Over time, I have become more and more involved in this little miracle, until taking the helm alongside my uncle. In these years - Marica continues - we have realized how much this race is an integral part of our territory. And the credit goes to Uncle Dante, a person capable of motivating you and making you feel part of a wonderful dream. The organization is now a well-oiled machine although every year we try to raise the bar a little further. Work towards the 39th edition is proceeding as planned, but during family chats, the first ideas for the 40th edition, in 2025, are already emerging, a milestone that we would like to celebrate in an unforgettable way. There will be time to think about it, now we can't wait for June 15th to experience another story to tell".

"I have experienced moments of great satisfaction - said patron Dante Armanini at the end of the 2023 edition - but the greatest joy always comes from the athletes who fill this historic transition area every year. The most beautiful thing is to receive so many pats on the back and so many affectionate greetings, both from those who regularly participate and from those who have recently approached triathlon. The thanks of the athletes mean they perceive that you are doing something for them and you do it like no one else does. This miracle, which has been repeating itself for almost 40 years now, can only be achieved thanks to a long series of constructive and passionate collaborations. We all work hard to make this moment always special: it is the joy of the participants that repays us".

Looking at the race from a competitive perspective and scrolling through the recent hall of fame, Dante Armanini's words take on an even deeper meaning because they give a sense of how, in this magnificent corner of Lake Garda, triathlon is breathed all year round. Alice Betto, Sara Dossena, Michele Sarzilla, Gregory Barnaby, Vicky Holland, Kate Roberts, Giorgia Priarone, Lilli Gelmini, Alessia Orla, Lisa Perterer, Tamas Toth, are just some of the names carved into the Bardolinoland Hall of Fame. What else to say… 40 years very well carried for the longest-running triathlon race in Italy.