Novella Calligaris

Biographical information

RolesCompeted in Olympic Games
Full nameNovella•Calligaris
Used nameNovella•Calligaris
Born27 December 1954 in Padova, Padova (ITA)
Measurements163 cm / 48 kg
AffiliationsN.C. Milano, Milano (ITA) / RN Patavium, Padova (ITA)
NOC Italy
Medals OG
Gold 0
Silver 1
Bronze 2
Total 3


Born in Padova but of Trieste origin, Novella Calligaris followed her brother Mauro into the pool and at the age of 13½ years, she was already on the national team after winning her first Italian title. Despite her slight build and short stature (48-50 kg, 1.63m), in comparison to her East German and American rivals, Calligaris stood out for her excellent technique (learned from her coaches Bubi Dennerlein and Gianni Gross) and her determination and gritty character in and out of the pool, especially with the press.

A distance freestyler, Calligaris was the first Italian to win a swimming Olympic medal. After competing at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, she set the European record in the 800 metre freestyle (9:38.0) in 1969, then went on to capture a bronze medal at the 1970 European Championships. In 1971, she reset the continental record three times over the same distance, also improving those of the 400 metre and 1500 metre freestyles.

At the 1972 Olympic Games in München, Calligaris won the silver behind the Australian star Shane Gould, and set a European record of 4:22.44 in the 400 freestyle. The next day she competed in the 400 IM, breaking the national record in the heats and setting another European record for the bronze. In the 800 freestyle final, Calligaris had a commanding lead only to be beaten by American Keena Rothhammer and Gould, but won the bronze medal with another European record of 8:57.46. She had become a national star, leaving München with three Olympic medals.

In the first edition of the FINA World Championships at Belgrade in 1973, and despite a toothache, Calligaris reached the pinnacle of her swimming career, winning the 800 freestyle in 8:52.97 which bettered the world record by 0.7 seconds. Calligaris also won bronzes in the 400 free and 400 IM.

Due to a series of circumstances, Calligaris never won a title at the European Championships. In 1974 in Wien (Vienna) she ended her competitive swimming career at just 20 years of age with a silver in the 800 free and a bronze in 400 free. Her palmarès include 76 Italian titles and 21 European records.

After her sports career, in 1975 Calligaris started working with the most important Italian newspapers including Corriere della Sera. In 1976 she worked with RAI, Italy’s public television, as a journalist; notably she covered major sporting events and various sections of culture and sports policy with RaiNews24. In the 1990’s, Calligaris embarked on a career in integrated communications and international marketing for large Italian and foreign companies.

In 1986, Calligaris entered the International Swimming Hall of Fame, the first Italian swimmer (man or woman) along with Mario Majoni (waterpolo) and Klaus Dibiasi (diving). On 26 February 2006, she was an Olympic flag bearer at the Closing Ceremony of the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Torino. A plaque was dedicated in her honour at the Walk of Fame of Italian Sport in Roma in May 2015, reserved for Italian athletes who have distinguished themselves in the international arena, and in 2019 she was awarded the Collare d’Oro for sporting merit. On 13 March 2021 Calligaris was elected president of the Associazione Azzurri olimpici d’Italia (Italian Olympic Azzurri Association), the first female president in its history.


Games Discipline (Sport) / Event NOC / Team Pos Medal As
1968 Summer Olympics Swimming (Aquatics) ITA Novella Calligaris
200 metres Freestyle, Women (Olympic) 30
400 metres Freestyle, Women (Olympic) 15
800 metres Freestyle, Women (Olympic) 15
400 metres Individual Medley, Women (Olympic) DNS
1972 Summer Olympics Swimming (Aquatics) ITA Novella Calligaris
400 metres Freestyle, Women (Olympic) 2 Silver
800 metres Freestyle, Women (Olympic) 3 Bronze
200 metres Butterfly, Women (Olympic) DNS
400 metres Individual Medley, Women (Olympic) 3 Bronze
4 × 100 metres Medley Relay, Women (Olympic) Italy DNS

Olympic family relations

Special Notes