The stylish Federica Pellegrini is going out on top.
The Italian superstar said after beating Katie Ledecky in the world championships 200m freestyle that she believed it would be the last 200m free of her career at the highest level of swimming.
Pellegrini, a 28-year-old fashion lover, would leave as the greatest women’s 200m freestyler ever.
Her 200m free world record from the 2009 World Championships — where Pellegrini was the main attraction in Rome — is the longest-standing mark in women’s swimming.
Pellegrini burst onto the scene by taking Olympic silver in 2004 one week after turning 16 years old. She was dubbed the “Lioness of Verona” because she used to hang pictures of lions up in her room and watch “The Lion King.”
She remains the youngest Italian to earn an individual Olympic medal in any sport.
Pellegrini then captured gold at Beijing 2008, breaking the world record in the first round and the final and becoming Italy’s first female Olympic swimming gold medalist.
Pellegrini missed the Olympic podium in 2012 and 2016 but among her four Olympics won world 200m free medals every odd-numbered year from 2005 through 2017. No other swimmer has earned a world medal in one event seven times.
Pellegrini is so highly regarded in Italy that the nation’s daily sports newspaper, Gazzetta dello Sport, honored her twice as the world female athlete of the year in 2009 and 2011. She is the only Italian athlete — male or female — to receive the global honor twice from Gazzetta, which last year bestowed a special “legend” award to her and Olympic Alpine skiing champion Alberto Tomba.
Pellegrini said as far back as 2014 that she planned to retire after the Rio Games to start a family with longtime boyfriend and swimmer Filippo Magnini. But after a post-Olympic break she was reported in Italian media this spring to say she eyed the 2020 Tokyo Games.
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