It has not been the most auspicious start to Menegatti’s 2016 Olympics, but she is determined to make it work and bring glory to her home country of Italy. Her first match, with her and teammate Laura Giombini taking on the Broder/Valjas beach volleyball from Canada, started strong but fizzled out, with the Canadian team winning. Today, they face Egypt, hoping to stay alive in the quest for gold.
At just 25 years old, Menegatti is one of the rising stars in the sport of beach volleyball. Should she overcome everything that has happened so far this year, she could catapult herself to the top of that conversation, and maybe even bring a gold medal back to Italy.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. She is Playing in Her Second Olympic Events, Amidst Controversy With Her Ousted Teammate
Menegatti first competed in the Olympics in 2012. She and her teammate Viktoria Orsi Toth qualified for this year’s Olympic games with ease, and were set to build on the hype Menegatti had built in 2012. But that plan fell apart very suddenly last week. Orsi Toth tested positive for anabolic steroids, and after multiple analyses that proved they were in her system, she was banned from the Olympics.
Some had expected Becky Perry to take Orsi Toth’s place as Menegatti’s teammate, Perry being an Italian player who was born in the US. Ultimately, however, Laura Giombini flew to Rio to take Orsi Toth’s place.
2. She Received Coverage in the 2012 Olympic Quarter Finals When She Was Seen Crying During a Match
Menegatti returning to the Olympics in 2016 is hardly surprising, considering she made plenty of noise in her first ever Olympics, the 2012 London ceremonies. At the time, her teammate was neither Orsi Toth nor Giombini, instead being Greta Cicolari. The two impressed almost immediately in the events, including defeating the British team of Zara Dampney and Shauna Mullin on their home turf.
Ultimately the Menegatti/Cicolari team made it all the way to the quarter finals. They were stopped in their tracks, however, by Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings of the US. The Italian team was clearly overmatched, and it took a toll emotionally. During a timeout, cameras caught Menegatti crying. Though emotional, she was consoled by Cicolari. They finished the match and lost in 2 sets, 21-13, 21-13.
3. She Transitioned Full-Time From Indoor Volleyball to Beach Volleyball at 19
Menegatti becoming a star on the sand was almost inevitable – she has been playing volleyball of some sort since she was 9 years old. But at 19, according to an interview with Vanity Fair, she made the decision to focus entirely on beach volleyball, abandoning the sport of indoor volleyball.
Though she has clearly mastered the art of beach volleyball, the transition was rougher than expected at first. She told Vanity Fair that while she wanted a challenge, she started off her training, roughly translated, “quite uncoordinated and clumsy.” She said the biggest issue was underestimating the difference between playing on a flat gym surface and playing on the more unpredictable sand, which took getting used to.
4. She’s Known For Wearing Pearl Earrings While on the Court
Menegatti, in addition to her outstanding volleyball abilities, has gotten some attention for her look on the court as well. Something notable about her appearance while playing are her distinct pearl earrings she wears while playing. When asked about them, she told Vanity Fair that they hold a lot of significance to her as a gift, something her parents got her many years ago. In addition to having a part of her family there with her as she competes, she also says she just likes the look, telling them (translated), “I think they are really nice and give a touch of class to the look.”
5. She Has Earned Over $400,000 in Volleyball Winnings
Menegatti turns 26 on August 16th. At such a young age, she has not only seen success on the court, but seen it translate into winnings. Having played in the European CEV league since youth, she has amassed over €15,000. Her time with FIVB, an international league, has seen even more financial success. Her victories there have translated into nearly $419,000. All told, she has earned over $441,000 in winnings. A medal at the Olympics could help increase that revenue.