Rome

Azzurri swimmers aim to make a splash at worlds

Pellegrini to compete in backstroke, relay during 'sabbatical'

Azzurri swimmers aim to make a splash at worlds

(By Paul Virgo) Rome, July 18 - Italian swimmers are hoping to make up for last year's disappointments at the Olympics with a strong showing at the world championships in Barcelona, which open on Friday. Italian swimming's golden girl, Federica Pellegrini, will be leading the charge for medals even though she is not defending the 200 and 400 metres freestyle world titles she won in 2009 and 2011. The 24-year-old is coming to the end of a sort of 12-month sabbatical she embarked on after flopping at the 2012 London Games. She has not taken the year off completely, but she limited the amount of competition and the intensity of her training to recharge her mental and physical batteries. The sabbatical has also featured an experiment with the backstroke and she has notched some surprisingly good times in recent months. She will compete in the 200m backstroke and some relay events before returning to her full training regime and her individual freestyle races after the world championships. "This year is just fun," said Pellegrini. "I don't have the stress of having to win. "The other members of the Italian team will have to show that they are contenders," added the athlete, who is a favourite with sponsors for her pin-up looks and has hit the headlines for her frequent changes of coaches and the recent break-up of her two-year romance with fellow swimmer Filippo Magnini. Pellegrini's ex Magnini, the reigning European champion in the 100m freestyle, will be bidding to return to the podium in Barcelona after winning gold in the event at the world championships in 2005 and 2007. Another big medal hope is Fabio Scozzoli, the reigning European champion in the 50m and 100m breaststroke. He took silver in both events at the 2011 Shanghai world championships. The Italian team also features Martina Grimaldi, who prevented an Azzurri duck in swimming at last year's Olympics in London by claiming bronze in the 10km open water race. Tania Cagnotto is Italy's top challenger in the diving. The 28-year-old, who recently posed for Italian Playboy, was the first Italian woman ever to win a world championship diving medal when she took bronze in Montreal in 2005. The 28-year-old has won four more since, including silver in the 3m synchronized springboard event with her partner Francesca Dallapè in Rome in 2009. She is looking to bounce back after just missing out on an Olympic medal in London, finishing fourth in the individual 3m springboard and in the 3m synchro. The Italian men's water polo team is out to defend the title it won in Shanghai.

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