Italy’s first Olympic medal in weightlifting was won by an extraordinary young man in Athens in 1906. Tullio Camilotti was born in the northern Italian town of Sacile into an upper-middle-class family on January 29, 1880. He began his athletic career as a gymnast and wrestler, but he soon switched to weightlifting; that was unusual because weightlifting was considered a working-class activity. Pumping iron was difficult and dangerous, hence not an acceptable recreation for people of quality; apparently it was too much like real work for most aristocrats. Camilotti, however, wasn’t ashamed to lift weights or participate in a sport that was considered socially beneath him.
Camilotti discovered weight training while he was a law student at the University of Padua. He joined an athletic club and competed as a weightlifter in several contests. He was so dedicated to the sport that he journeyed to Germany, where he trained for a while with the famous coach Theodor Siebert [Gallery of Ironmen, July ’04]. That must have been a great advantage for him because the young man qualified for Italy’s Olympic team in 1906. At the Games, Camilotti earned a silver medal in the one-hand snatch and thus brought glory to himself and his nation’all the more remarkable because Italy’s sporting movement was in its infancy. Camilotti’s success inspired others to take up weights.
In 1907 the Italian national weightlifting championships were held in Venice, and Camilotti managed to win that great competition. Ironically, it would be the athlete’s last triumph.
Camillott’s many victories led to offers from vaudeville and pro-sports promoters, but he resisted those calls. After completing his education, he became a lawyer and left competition. He did, however, encourage others to exploit their sporting talents. He was revered in the Italian sporting world, and despite his extremely short lifting career, Camilotti was always considered a paragon of Italian strength and nobility. One commentator confirmed his manly bearing and inspirational behavior in 1911: Camilotti ‘was highly cultured, a great expert in athletic sports and an impassioned lover of the same; he helped not a little to increase the number of amateur athletes, inculcating the love of physical strength by word and deed in his many travels.’
Tullio Camilotti died in his native Sacile on February 21, 1958.
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