Stefano Gregorio's persistence finally secured him the crown he was stripped of it in 1993 – The World water ski racing title. Born on 22nd December 1966, this 29 year old Italian seemed always destined to become a successful athlete in one respect or another.
Stefano grew up in Como, Northern Italy with his family -a brother Piero and sister Adonella. Although he began water skiing at 7, he was already talented in many other sports.
At 10 he had successfully entered his first water ski competitions in slalom, tricks, jump, barefoot and racing! His journey to the World title begins when he decided to opt for ski racing.
It was his coach, Augusto Luoni, who gave him his prominently style – reminiscent of a wild bull plowing through everything in its path. He was at home on rough water. His heroes were the talented Italian Donato Trezzi and Britain's own former World title holder Steve Moore MBE. The Jolly Racing Club at Lezzeno was where he trained to eventually make the Italian National team in 1987.
Over the last few years, Stefano and Britain's Darren Kirkland have dominated ski racing in Europe. They have shared a level of calibre which can be compared to that of Britain's Danny Bertels. He has more National and European titles under his belt than can be count on 2 hands. Not only a World title holder, but he has won Australia's Botany Bay race and taken a 2nd in the Bridge-To-Bridge. He has won the Giro del Lario and the "Diagonale des Fous" – a race over 2500 km! Gregorio is without a doubt, a name which will be remembered.
So at the age of 20, Stefano proudly joined his national team. He became European Formula 2 champion with no less than 9 consecutive victories throughout Europe. In the French Grand-Prix, this promising youngster not only won the F2 category, but he finished ahead of every skier in F1. It remains one of the favorite races of his long career.
His first shot at the world title was at the age of 21 in Australia, when managed an excellent 2nd place in the first race and an overall 5th at the end of it all. Two World championships later, he finished a reliable 3rd place in Darwin Australia. But it was at Vichy, France in 1993 that he proved beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he was a most incredible ski racer.
A judgments decision on his driver's action however, ruled in a penalty which dropped him to 3rd place. Stefano told me "the whole world fell upon me – it was not fair", but he cooked on.
In August 1995 his persistence paid off however, and he won the World Title at Belgium. He says, "I felt free. I think I deserve it. Now I feel satisfaction for my career."
But this superb skier worked hard for his place on the podium. Daily his training would consist of an hours cycling uphill followed by a lot of stretching and a 10 minute jog. Later he would ski for 15minutes on a pair of skis followed by 50minutes of high speed rough water skiing on a race ski, finishing off with a fast run.
On his 6 year old DC race ski, using DC bindings, he beat the rest of the world and finally claimed what he felt he had earned. When he returned to his home village at Lezzeno, there was a great feat held for him. The whole village was there. A car parcel took place, flags were flown and his name was depicted across the village walls. Stefano told me "I was moved – more excited than during the Worlds themselves". Here were his people, sharing in his triumph.
He has now retired from racing himself. With his wife Patrizia Sala, he will now set down and plans to open his own ski-school in April. He has the ideal spot at his father's restaurant, which is located on the edge of lake Como. He's a keen soccer player and will continue to play for his non-professional team and support Parma AC. But he also wants to be able to help youngsters in ski racing. He says "the sport deserves to be kept alive, for I had so many joys from it I'll never forget".
When I asked him what he has enjoyed about his years as a ski racer he answered, "I enjoyed the peace of mind and enjoyment of life us racers shared before and after the races. one can not describe ".
He believes that, as in any sport, there could have been improvements. Firstly in safety, also in sentences, choice of race venues and in boat control. Stefano wants to help the youngsters in the sport and he sends a strong message out to them: "Do not rush for F1, better wait in F2 till the moment comes. A fall in F1 can break a career. totally committed to you the skier ".
Now he sees 2 emerging talents from Europe as Britain's James Cramhorn and the Italian youngster Fabio Scarpini. Looking at 1996, he believes Carlo Cassa and Darren Kirkland are European favorites.
He went on to say that it's Kirkland who he admires most in the world of ski racing, and I quote – "He's so unlucky, but he never gets down.
Many people know of the crew and team who supported Stefano. His experienced driver Furlan was first rate. There was Ivan Pellolio, Roby Zucchi and his team-captain and brother Piero Gregorio.
His wife, the many other people who stand by him and the Italian Federation, all receive thanks from this worthy title holder.
By Robbie Llewellyn (1996)
With thanks to GianLuca for translating