A Fruitvale native has earned a berth to Pyeongchang, South Korea and the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.
Joe Cecchini slid his way onto the Italian Olympic Team thanks in part to gold and silver medal finishes in the skeleton at the North American Cup in Lake Placid, N.Y. last week.
“This is the best feeling I have ever had,” Cecchini told the Times in an email Tuesday. “I have put everything I have into this sport for so long striving for that moment and it was surreal when I received the phone call from Maurizio (Italian coach).”
Cecchini began sliding in 2008 and spent three years with the Canadian Development Team before securing a spot on the Italian National team. Cecchini’s Grandfather and family emigrated to Canada from Gabicce Mare, Pesaro, Italy, affording his family dual Canadian and Italian citizenship.
A two-time Italian skeleton champion, the 35-year-old athlete has participated in three world championships with the elusive Olympic dream always on his radar.
“Although I had earned a spot by the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (IBSF) and IOC standards, I wasn’t sure if the Italian Federation and Olympic Committee would nominate and send me, so when I got the phone call it was a release of relaxation that came over me.
“I can’t explain it,” added Cecchini. “I wasn’t jumping around or anything like that. Just a big smile and I took a moment to myself, before hugging my wife and calling my mom and dad (Patricia and Mark). It was perfect.”
Cecchini suffered a setback earlier in the summer, undergoing surgery that sidelined him from training and altered his schedule and ability.
“I never got to train the way I wanted and planned too. My start is not where I want it to be, and my start has always been my greatest strength, so from that aspect it really affected things, however, it has made me a better slider.”
More determined than ever, Cecchini trained hard, tweaked his technique, and opened the season in style in Whistler on Nov. 4, sliding to a gold medal at the first stop on the North America’s Cup.
“I had to make up for my start and dig deeper into my driving skills and the overall process. With the downtime this summer, I spent a lot of time with the sport psychologist and worked on the mental aspects, which really pushed me through the low points of the season.”
Cecchini, a Calgary resident and police officer, took time off work to compete in World Cup races in Lake Placid, Park City, and Whistler, before heading to Europe for races in Winterberg, Ger., Innsbruck, Aus., and St. Moritz, Switz. He finished consistently in the top 30, but was hoping for better.
“We saw a lot of snow affected races, and missed training runs,” said Cecchini. “With the support of friends, family, co-workers, fellow athletes, and coaches I kept focused and continued to push as hard as I could.”
Cecchini then rode to his best results in Europe, a 14th and 19th placing at the Intercontinental Cup in St. Moritz, Jan. 3-4, before claiming gold and silver in Lake Placid.
“The results in Placid helped to secure my nomination for sure. Going into Placid I needed and expected top results, proving that I am a top athlete in this sport and that my sliding is where it needs to be going into the Olympics.”
Cecchini was the only skeleton racer named to the Italian Olympic contingent. He is scheduled to race at the Winter Olympic Games on Feb. 15 at the Alpensia Sliding Centre just outside of Pyeongchang.
“The moment I have had in my mind, since I started this journey, is standing on the block hearing the announcer say, ‘The track is clear for Joe Cecchini.’
“That moment is what I have strived for and it is less then a month away now.”
The Beaver Valley community will hold a fundraiser for Cecchini on Jan. 29 at the Fruitvale Hall from 6-9 p.m. where ‘Friends of Joe’ can meet Cecchini via skype and help him complete his Olympic dream.