Luca Dotto (18 April, 1990) is an Italian freestyle swimmer and is among the fastest sprinters in the world at the 50m and 100m distances.
Luca’s debut on the international stage came as part of the Italian junior squad at the 2006 Comen Cup (now the Mediterranean Swimming Cup) in Rio Maior, Portugal, where he won a 50m freestyle silver medal and a 4x100m freestyle gold. As a junior he went on to win 50m freestyle bronze at the 2007 European Junior Championships in Antwerp, and a 50m freestyle gold and 4x100m freestyle relay silver at the same championships a year later in Belgrade. Also in 2008 he came home with an impressive haul from the FINA World Junior Swimming Championships in Monterrey, winning gold in the 100m freestyle and 4x100m freestyle relay, and the 50m free silver.
Dotto started 2009 with a flourish as he shattered Giorgio Lamberti’s 20-year-old Italian 100m freestyle record at the national spring championships (49.22), only for it to be broken in the next heat by relay teammate Marco Orsi (49.13). Luca, however, came back to win the title in the final. Later that year at December’s European SC Championships, he made his senior debut as a member of the third-placed Italian 4x50m freestyle relay team.
In 2010 Dotto moved to Rome to train with fellow sprinter Filippo Magnini, joining the Gruppo Sportivo Forestale (State Forestry corps of the Italian police force). Later that year he made his European LC Championship debut, making both the 50m and 100m freestyle finals. In both the 100m heats and semi-finals, he became only the second Italian to swim below 49s in a textile suit, and in the 50m free final swam the second-fastest textile time in Italian history (22.14). Three months later at the European SC Championships in Eindhoven, he won his first senior international gold medal (4x50m freestyle relay) and his first individual medal, a bronze in 100m freestyle. Three weeks later at the World SC Championships in Dubai, he made the final of both 50m and 100m freestyle, becoming only the second Italian to swim a sub-47s 100m in both the semi-final and final. In the 4x100m freestyle relay, he was part of the Italian team that broke the Italian national mark in both the heat and final. Three days after leaving Dubai, Dotto earned his first Italian national titles, winning both 50m and 100m freestyle in Riccione.
Like 2009, Dotto started off 2011 impressively, winning both the 50m and 100m freestyle national titles, swimming the fastest-ever Italian 50m free in a textile suit. But it was at the World LC Championships in Shanghai that he came of age on the international stage, winning the silver medal in the 50m freestyle dash. He also made the 100m freestyle final, and was part of the Italian 4x100m freestyle relay team that finished fourth. Luca ended off the year with a 4x50m freestyle relay gold medal and a 100m freestyle silver at the European SC Championships in Szczecin.
2012 promised optimism after Dotto’s Shanghai silver, but a back injury severely hampered his Olympic training programme, and ultimately his London Games was disappointing by his standards, failing to make the 50m freestyle final or the 100m free semi-final, and finishing seventh in the 4x100m freestyle relay. However, signs of a return to form emerged later in the year at the European SC Championships in Chartres (where he swam a strong 100m freestyle final), and the World SC Championships, where the Italian 4x100m freestyle relay team got back to their medalling ways with a silver at the World SC Championships in Istanbul.
When it comes to freestyle sprinters, Luca Dotto doesn’t have the typical build. Like most sprinters, he’s fairly tall, but at 80kg, his slight frame doesn’t lend him the imposing presence that his competition’s superbodies do. Instead, his foundation for success is built on attributes that transcend the physical – passion, joy, sacrifice.
It’s not that his rivals don’t have this kind of dedication, it’s that Luca has to push himself that much harder, relying on his non-physical internal forces to get him to the front. And while satisfaction is a feeling that most successful swimmers would cite as a reward for their hard work, it’s perhaps only an Italian that would mention “joy” as a personal driver when confronted with the challenge of swimming 12 km a day. On the other hand, he’s been known to refer to swimming training as “a deathly bore”, reaffirming his Italian roots with the country’s reputation for contradictions.
Luca’s Latin temperament also seemed to characterize his approach leading up to his Shanghai surprise, on occasion being described as “carefree”. Whether that refers to his mindset or his style in the water is perhaps moot, and a swimmer’s prowess – whether stemming from a carefree approach or not – is measured by one thing and one thing alone: results. Luca’s speak for themselves, with eight Italian LC titles (in events that feature some of the stiffest competition in the world, including Filippo Magnini and Marco Orsi), two European SC titles, and two World Junior titles to go with his 2011 World Championship silver medal*. With April 2013 heralding just his 23rd birthday, youth is on his side, and these successes are set to grow to include even bigger prizes in the future. One that he has already garnered so far is Padova’s premier sporting award for 2011, the Gattamelata.
Unfortunately, 2012 proved to be anything but carefree, with a debilitating back injury hampering his Olympic preparation and ultimately his performance. By the end of the year, however, his form had started to return, auguring well for 2013 and beyond.
Like many top athletes, Luca attributes the support and enthusiasm of his parents for his success, encouraged and inspired as he was by their own passion for sport. While his early forays on the football field might have revealed more gusto than flair, it was a different story on the basketball court, and his prowess as a defender might well have taken him further had he not given up all other sports to focus on swimming. All other sports besides scuba diving, that is, a passion that has seen him progress to near-instructor’s level.
Luca’s first experience with water as a six-year-old was far from auspicious, and in some ways it’s fortunate that the incident didn’t put him off water for life. It was the first time his mother had taken him to the pool, and to see how he would cope, the person in charge threw him into the water. Under the terrified eyes of his mother, he emerged quite calmly, reaching the edge of the pool by himself. He’s come a long way since then – he loves water so much that he now wears the Japanese symbol for water as a tattoo.
Living alone in Rome since 2010 without the nearby support of his parents has helped him to grow up quicker than other Italians of his age, but he still remains a typical young twenty-something, with action-adventure films and books on his leisure menu, pop, R&B and rap on his iPod, and homemade pasta and meat on his dinner plate (like any regular Italian).
However, when one look at Luca to-do list, it’s anything but typical, revealing a hunger to learn and a desire to experience many different facets of life – learn to play an instrument; learn to cook like a chef; learn to speak Japanese; complete his scuba diver’s instructors course; and study economics and management. Most telling, however, is the final item on that list, one that demonstrates the will of a future champion – to win everything he can.