The reign of middle-distance queen Federica Pellegrini came to a thudding end at London 2012, the Italian star unable to make the podium just a year on from retaining both the 200m and 400m freestyle world titles. America's Allison Schmitt, over 200m, and France's Camille Muffat, over 400m, took the crowns (and finished second to each other in the one they didn't win).
Pellegrini looked ordinary, the turmoil of three years of swapping bases and coaches (boyfriends too) contributing to her inability to compete at her best. When she won, she almost always did so by taking on the race and killing off her opposition with speed followed by a killer homeward pace. In London, she was behind from the start, no longer the force she had been.
It looked like the end of the road after three Games, the last the weakest. Yet La Fed is not ready to throw in the towel. She will take a sabbatical from 400m racing in the coming year and will focus on 200m and relays under the guidance of a coach she says she will not leave until Rio 2016 is done. Her choice of head coach is yet to be announced. Meanwhile, the man in charge of her land conditioning is decided: Matteo Giunta. He is the cousin of Pellegrini's beau, sprinter Filippo Magnini, who will make an announcement on his own future "in a few days".
"Mention that a swimmer rests and many misunderstand the word sabbatical," Pellegrini tells La Gazzetta dello Sport. "I will take a break from 400 but not from swimming. I'll do the 200 … the World Cup, where I'll focus mainly on the relay. For sure, I will not change coach in the next four years, I will work hard for Rio 2016. Matteo Giunta, in this transition, will be my coach. "
The Italian sports paper asks Pellegrini why she cried so much in London. "I did not cry. I rationalised," she replies. "Swimmers sometimes fall from the throne, but I always knew what was wrong and I know I gave everything. As always."
The 200m and 400m world record holder pointed to some of what was "wrong" when she said, with a nod to an Italian media that flew on her every flutter: "I do not use social networks, use blogs, Filippo had to give up twitter. The balance of racing is delicate and can be easily destabilised. Anyone who knows me knows I'm not a bitch, but if you make me [a bitch] you'll get a nasty answer. There are those who did not have the courage to say things to my face. "
Pellegrini has yet to return to the pool since the Games. "I was in London a week, had a good tour," she tells Gazzetta. "Then it was home to Sardinia. But now I cannot wait to dive in."