The students in the 2018-2019 session of ITA350: Language Practice, a third-year Italian class taught by Professor Paola Bernardini at the University of Toronto Mississauga, had the opportunity to interview the talented Italian celebrity Elisa Di Francisca, an Olympic foil fencing champion. The class, an advanced level course “designed to give students oral and written proficiency,” runs for the entire academic year.

As part of their course work, the students asked Elisa Di Francisca a variety of questions about her life, which she was happy to respond to. Not only did the students receive a detailed and honest response to the questions asked, but they were also able to have a more personal interaction with a native Italian speaker, allowing a chance to put their language studies into practice.

Due to Di Francisca’s background in foil fencing, the students began the interview by asking questions about her career and her experience as an Olympic champion. Di Francisca began practicing fencing when she was only 13 years old. Before fencing however, Di Francisca spent some time practicing classical dancing.

When asked how the two relate, Di Francisca told the class that her experience in dance helped her body become more fluid and helped her balance for fencing. She shared with the class that her unique fencing strategy is to study her opponent and adjust her own technique and form accordingly. Instead of one specific technique for all opponents, Di Francisca tailors her approach to every match.

Going into each match with a different mindset and technique has allowed the Italian champion to have many successful moments in her career. She became a world champion in 2010 and a three-time European champion. While playing for team Italy, she was an Olympic champion in 2012, five-time World champion and seven-time European champion. Despite all of her accomplishments, the moment Di Francisca claims to be her most memorable was at the London 2012 Olympics where she won her first gold medal.  

The ITA350 students also had a few questions regarding Di Francisca’s ability to balance her Olympic career and her role as a mother. The class was curious to know what a normal day of a champion fencer looked like. Although she trains every day, Di Francisca told the class that she tries to find as much time as she can to spend with her son, Ettore, who is about two years old. In fact, her determination and passionate personality lead her to start her own blog “Mamma atleta” where she talks about the struggles and glories of being both a mother and an athlete.

This discussion lead to one of the last questions of the interview: the students asked about discrimination or sexism within the world of sports and wondered whether or not Di Francisca thinks women are at a disadvantage. Di Francisca replied with good insight on the topic. She knows that men are most likely to have a physical advantage, however, she believes that the mental strength a woman has is far stronger and extraordinary than a man’s. This factor is what she believes has always helped her to reach the top and go for the gold.

When asked where she sees herself in ten years, after her extensive and successful career as a fencer is over, Di Francisca shared with everyone that she hopes to be retired and happily living with her family by the beach in Ischia but only after she plans to win a gold medal for her son at the Olympic games in 2020 where she will be competing in Tokyo, Japan. 

UTM’s Department of Language Studies and the third-year Italian class, ITA350, will be conducting their next interview this winter semester on March 18, with the renowned Italian independent filmmaker Marina Spada.