Sunday, August 30, 2009

My Favorite Valentino

No, he is not the famous dressmaker.

He's the young comical athlete who has been nicknamed, "The Doctor".

His last name is Rossi. Yes, he's the MotoGP motorcycle phenomenon who has dazzled the world with his talents for almost a decade.

My poll, "Which Famous Italian Do You Love Most", proved to show my public as timid in their responses so I will simply discuss my personal favorite.

Valentino Rossi has been a constant in my development in the bel paese. His entry into the 500 competition class, matched my definitive arrival as a stable ex-pat in Italy. That was in 2000 when he was little more than a teenager. Despite his young age, he surprised his adversaries by becoming world champion of the category a year later. Italy had its sweetheart: young, cute, funny and unbelievably amazing driver!

I remember watching his big eyes and wide smile as he won each big race. A first place ranking was his excuse to perform a practical joke on the motorcycle race course. A few of those acts included the following: a ride around the track with an inflatable woman, having a pit stop in a spot-a-pot on the racetrack, receiving a traffic ticket for going too fast by a vigile (traffic policeman) and acting like one of the seven dwarfs while his fan club simulated the rest of the clan. He kept his public happy as victories piled up and he continued to entertain during post-race shows. He was a kid at heart while being an athlete of steel. The big kid was even awarded an honorary college degree for his victories which sealed his nickname, "The Doctor". (All Italian graduates, even from only the undergraduate level, get the title of Doctor.) The University of Urbino gave him a degree in Comunicazione e PubblicitĂ  per le Organizzazioni (Communication and Publicity for Organizations).

Victories continued for years. The 500 class became today's MotoGP. The winning kept coming. Sunday was a weekly date with Valentino on TV and the buzz of motorcycle engines sounding throughout the house. It seemed impossible that he could lose. He even changed motorcycle company brands to challenge the system that thought his ability to win was more based on the bike than his own determination and brawn. Valentino abandoned the winning Honda team to revamp Yamaha. He left everyone speechless when he broke that stereotype, too.

Then a couple of hiccups rained on his parade when he started winning less and found the Italian Finanza (Financial Police) chasing after him for fiscal evasion totalling 112 million Euro while he was residing in London. He came clean by paying back Italy's government and started winning on the track again shortly thereafter, once several kinks were worked out on his motorcycle. These drivers adore their bikes more than their girlfriends. The blend of power and technology makes or breaks the athlete. His Yamaha had gone through some tough months that turned into years.

Now the boy with curly hair is a man about to turn 30, already old for his sport. He is back on top with a virtually shaved head, same earrings as always, a more mature outlook on life and the sport and over 100 1st place titles under his belt. He is even back living in Italy full-time. The smile is there. The ranking is high. Perhaps he will be crowned with his 9th world championship title overall and 6th in MotoGP this season. It is within his grasp.

Go Vale! A cheer from an unlikely motorcycle fan, your truly.

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