London

President Napolitano leads Italian pep rally at Olympics

Country has 'extraordinary energy' in sports, way of life

President Napolitano leads Italian pep rally at Olympics

(ANSA) - London, July 27 - As Italy prepared to launch its bid for Olympic glory on Friday, President Giorgio Napolitano led athletes - and recession-weary citizens - in a pep rally ahead of opening ceremonies in London. "The country is not entirely in crisis," he told Italy's roughly 300 athletes at the Casa Italia section of the Olympic village. "Fortunately there is a part (of the country) that is standing on its feet with a lot of energy". While his words were mainly pointed at the country's phalanx of Olympic contenders, the remarks were also addressed to an array of representatives from Italian industry who have made up the 'Azzurra' expo structure, with stands showcasing famous Italian brands such as automaker Fiat. "And you, what sport do you play?" the president joked with the small child of John Elkann, the president of Fiat. Moving on to the stand of Armani, the legendary clothing maker who made Italy's 2012 Olympic uniforms, Napolitano opened up a display jacket to find the national anthem stitched into the lining. "They've learned it by now," he quipped. "We sang it a lot during the festivities surrounding Italy's 150th anniverssary (last year)". In a country languishing in low morale from the effects of the euro crisis and a national recession, Napolitano holds a rare place of esteem among most Italians when it comes to their politicians. In November, Napolitano was credited with masterfully navigating a divided electorate and a fragmented legislature through one of the most serious peaks of the sovereign-debt crisis, which drove ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi out of office. It was his decision to appoint former European commissioner and economics expert Mario Monti to the helm of a non-political government of technocrats in a bid to steer the country to financial stability. As the country still struggles to reverse its recession and to regain the confidence of investors, Napolitano has been promoting the often-overlooked strengths of the Italian economy, culture and way of life. As he made his way over to the 'True Italian' food stand, the president implicitly pointed out what is likely the most important pillar of Italian society. The chefs here are all from the Emilia-Romagna region, which in May suffered two deadly earthquakes. "From Emilia? Wonderful, wonderful," said Napolitano. "I know you all come from there, but we need some more diversity," he quipped, playing on the region's proud reputation for exquisite cuisine. Accompanied by Gianni Petrucci, the head of the Italian Olympic Committee, Napolitano said that sport has much in common with the Italian spirit and the country's aspirations. "In sport there is a strong national spirit and a sense of Italian identity," he said, adding that while Italy may have many "problems and weak points" it also had "extraordinary energy" both in sports and in general. "Our athletes' sporting efforts for Italy and Italians will be crowned," he said. Petrucci added that Italy will use the Olympics to show the best it has to offer despite the country's "difficult times", "This is the Italy that is carrying on and putting its best foot forward. It makes us happy that the president is once again keeping the world of sports close (to his heart)". Italy is aiming to pull in at least 25 medals in London, where opening ceremonies begin later Friday. Italy came in ninth in the medal table at the 2008 Beijing Olympics with 27 medals, including eight golds. Petrucci said Italy's Olympic team this year is not as big as the one that went to Beijing but it still features around 300 athletes.

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