Country: Italy

Profession: Athlete – Shot put

Career highlights:

  • 2020 Olympic finalist – 5th
  • 2021 National champion

What was the first thought that went through your mind when you realized you had qualified for the Olympic final?

The first thought was “Wow Zane, you really did it”.  I was so proud of myself. I think every athlete works towards their first Olympics with confidence but also a slight bit of doubt and knowing what I had overcome and sacrificed to have the opportunity to qualify but then actually qualifying was the type of emotion that is worth dedicating your life towards.  

So many athletes choose not to study when they turn professional, what made you want to pursue a degree?

I grew up in a context where without a university education, it is very difficult to achieve a lifestyle the average person may want for themselves and their family.  My parents gently encouraged me to explore options other than a professional sports career because they had the foresight while I just had the passion.  It is also important to note that I only turned professional a year and a bit after I graduated which made the decision to study a lot easier because I was in no position to favour my sporting ability.  In hindsight it was the best decision I made, it was the start whereby I developed my individualism.

What sparked your interest in finance and accounting?

The decision for finance and accounting came from my understanding of the importance of financial literacy in your professional and private capacity.  It developed my already number orientated mindset and allowed me to harness previously untapped potential.  I reflect a lot on the difficulty of my university days and feeling like I had to muscle my way through courses I didn’t feel passionate about but I understood their benefit in my life.  I am still constantly drawing on that principle and I feel my overcoming of those challenges gives me confidence in all areas of my life.

You have spoken about you interest in culture, people and the mind – can you tell us more about this?

I could talk about this forever.  I think university exhausted my perceived numeric aptitude and I discovered I have a much greater passion for human behavior, psychology and self development.  I am addicted to positive interaction with human beings.  I am still reflecting on and trying to understand my role and interest in this but from an existential perspective when I reduce my existence to any sense of purpose I feel a compulsion to be kind and better understand myself so I can better serve and interact with others.  When I think about the times I felt most fortunate to be alive it has been when I was with people I cared about doing things I never thought possible and there is nothing that is more satisfying than that.  When we achieve more than our perceived limitations through working with others in kindness, dedication and discipline, I believe it is the greatest feeling we can as humans attain. I haven’t experienced a better sensation of pleasure.  I am trying very hard to find out who I am through sport and be the most positively impactful person I can be without falling prey to the empty pleasures of life.  I think like everyone I am searching for meaning, and I finally think I am in the early stages of being on the correct path always welcoming necessary adjustment.

We know it must have been a difficult decision to compete for Italy and not South Africa at Tokyo, can you take us through what lead up to this decision?

Thank you for your acknowledgment of the difficulty of this decision.  It was difficult because of the privilege it is to represent both country’s, let alone choose between the two.  It is a decision that has developed and become more meaningful since my initial change of federation.  My early love for sport came from my Italian grandfather’s obsession with sport.  We were always with him during school holidays and he would wake up with sport on the television and he would fall asleep with sport on it too.  It didn’t matter if he had seen it before, he was as invested in the repeat as he was in the live result.  I think a passion as strong as that will always influence someone and in this case I really believe I was that someone.  After university I moved provinces in search of a coach to take me to the level I required in shot put.  After 6 weeks with my first ever full time shot put coach he developed a very aggressive mouth cancer which left him unable to coach for the foreseeable future.  During this time my Italian born grandfather had also developed Alzheimer disease.  Being so confronted with the suffering that accompanies mortality, I really did some deep personal work and tried to find meaning of my own.  Having just finished university, it was the first time in my life I had freedom of decision and time.  School and university tends to lock you into a set period of time and it’s a comfortable place to not really consider anything else.  So this became a multilayered meaning search because of the confrontation of the suffering, new found independence as well as being exposed to literature on the search for meaning.  In an attempt to find meaning through dedicating my sporting journey to the man who instilled in me the love of sport, I began searching for a coach in Italy.  I had no idea whether this was an easier/more difficult decision, the only thing I was chasing was meaning. I am very aware that happiness and ease are temporary but meaning sustains the fluctuation of emotion.  After 6 months of searching for a coach I was put in touch with my current coach Paolo Dal Soglio.  When you find yourself a teacher with as much to offer as he has, it doesn’t matter what he is teaching, you just devote yourself to his principles and that is what I have done.  In a short space of 18 months he has taken me from an unknown sportsman in South Africa to 5th in the Olympic games and known world wide.  More than anything I have been involved in before, I think that is the strongest testament to the reward of trying to be a good person and forging your character through any dedicated practice.  6 weeks before the Olympic Games my grandfather passed away but I carried his spirit into Tokyo and I couldn’t think of a better way to honor him than to make his birth country proud. 

What book would you recommend everyone reads and why?

Textures of silence by Gordon Vorster.  He is a South African author and it is a great novel.  I am not one for novels usually but I loved the way this book made me feel.  Feeling is the start of awareness and awareness is the path to enlightenment.  

What is your favourite Italian meal?

This is like asking a parent to choose a favourite child, haha. I have not tasted all regional Italian meals but I lived with my coach and his wife during my time up until this point and I haven’t had a bad meal yet.  We are spoilt for choice in Italy but one meal in which I could eat everyday would have to be Insalata di Riso.  If you don’t know what it is, do yourself a favour and look it up.  The secret I do believe is in using Italian rice, I hope it makes you as happy as it makes me when I eat it.

Can you tell us about your favourite Italian movement?

It would have to be the Enlightenment movement.  This movement prioritized reason, individualism and skepticism.  All 3 of which I think are very important in self mastery, human development and in today’s global climate.  I am enjoying how my incorporation into different cultures is making me more understanding and compassionate towards our individual differences and not the opposite.

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