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74OLYMPIC REVIEWMY GAMESIfirst grasped the true nature of the Olympic Gameswhen I was 22 years old, competing in Atlanta in1996. At the Games, all sports are on a par and allmedals have the same status - whether they are won bya football team or a table tennis player. For me, sincechildhood, competing in the Olympic Games has alwaysbeen the highest possible achievement - the thing youtrain for every day, for years. And it is the only event atwhich all the athletes live together, in the Olympic Village,and where a medal winner might sit down to breakfastwith the person they beat the day before. You meetpeople of different cultures, nationalities and languages,who tell you about sports you may never even haveheard of, sharing their stories and excitement with you. It is special. From the Opening Ceremony onwards, thereis a party atmosphere and the Italian team can always be relied upon to make an entertaining entrance.Atlanta 1996 was my first Games, and what Iremember about the Olympic Village was the sense ofliving in a wonderland. I spent most of my time withGiuseppina Tufano, a basketball player who is 2.03mtall, while I'm a little on the small side. Everyone teasedus, but we went around all day in search of celebrities. It was a difficult time for the team: our team-mate Diana Bianchedi snapped her Achilles tendon in onecompetition, but we managed to still win the gold andshe celebrated with us. I still get goose bumps when I think of our farewell hug. Sydney 2000 was a time ofgrowing maturity. I was so tense before the competitionthat I woke up before dawn and told my coach, GiulioTomassini, that I was afraid. He replied with words Iremember to this day: "You've passed all your examswith distinction, now take your degree." And the dayafter the event there was time to visit Sydney, which forme, is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The Athens Games were the ones in which myfamily was most involved. My mother and sisters werethere, as was my husband Mimmo, who was seeing meat the Olympic Games for the first time. I was victoriousagain, beating my team-mate and training partnerGiovanna Trillini, and that was when Mimmo and I thought it was time to start a family.My memories of Beijing 2008 are of the mostbeautiful Olympic Village. After two gold medals, peoplehad very high expectations of me. I won my thirdOlympic title and celebrated with a trip to TiananmenSquare. When people saw my gold medal, they wentwild and gathered around me. It was a real party!I returned home with the conviction that this was notthe last word: I shall wrap it all up in London in 2012. ?RightVezzali celebrates with her coach after winningindividual foil gold in Beijing in 2008MYGAMESVALENTINAVEZZALITHE ITALIAN FENCER, WHO HAS WON FIVE GOLD MEDALS, ONE SILVER AND ONE BRONZE, LOOKS BACK AT HER FOUR OLYMPIC APPEARANCES AND TARGETS FURTHER SUCCESS IN LONDON IN 2012INTERVIEW:MARISA POLIATLANTA 1996Gold: team foil Silver: individual foilSYDNEY 2000Gold: both individual and team foil ATHENS 2004Gold: individual foil BEIJING 2008Gold: individual foil Bronze: team foil