VOTE — Italian Of The Year 2021

Cast your vote for this year's winner, the polls are open now!

Italian of the Year 2021

Cast your vote for the Italian of the Year 2021, the polls are open now!

There’s no denying that 2021 has not exactly been the celebratory ‘end of the worst part’ year that we’d hoped it would be when states and scientists announced that they had successfully produced vaccines against COVID-19 and could rapidly put them into production. Not only are we still very much living with the virus that upended our world in the earliest months of 2020, but the long-term fallout of this paradigm shift is starting to become evident in global economic shocks, shipping crises, and psychic trauma that may never leave us. COVID-19 has now become our collective underlying condition, mitigated by an ever-worsening global climate crisis that we’re running after in the dimmest hope of catching its tail. In retrospect, any year that begins with an insurrection is probably not one in which to place our greatest confidence.

However, if you happened to be Italian, live in Italy, or feel a particular affinity with the country, this was kind of your year. We might have tried to keep it quiet but by the time summer came along it was undeniable: Italy was having a pretty tremendous 2021 across the board. Whether it was sport, music, film, or science, Italians rose to the top of their fields and gave us all reasons to be cheerful this year. Our nominees for the Italian of the Year are only a few of those who showed us that somehow, even in the midst of one of the most difficult periods we’ve collectively faced, there is always room for greatness, and more importantly, goodness. 

Voting is open to the public from Monday 13 December until 23:59 on Sunday 19 December. 

Italian of the Year 2021 nominees 

Mario Draghi

The Statesman 

Ok, so maybe he hasn’t kept us enthralled with new seasons of Il Decreto, and there aren’t too many women calling themselves his bimbi. And it’s undeniable: if charisma was on the shortlist of qualities that Italy was desperate for in its leader, Mario Draghi wouldn’t have been on the list at all. But the truth is, what Italy needed more than anything else was someone who would dial back the drama and get to the business of rebuilding an economy that has been in freefall for decades. And in large part, Super Mario has done exactly that. His success in finally resolving the bottomless pit of government bailouts that Alitalia had become is only dwarfed by his ability to retain a grip on power following local elections that could well have toppled him. And lest we forget, Draghi brought the Recovery Fund home from Brussels and has pledged that it will go into the right hands. Of course, much of Italy’s future depends on the January 2022 elections, and Draghi will undoubtedly play a key role in that future whether as Prime Minister, President, or Lender of Last Resort. Oh and, there is still that small matter of the pesky 549-year old bank that won’t seem to go away. But we all know, family things are always a little expensive. 

Marcell Jacobs

The Barrier Breaker 

In every sport there is always a frontier that is reserved for those with the rare skill to surpass even their most talented counterparts. Perhaps none is so hallowed as the ten-second barrier, the physical and psychological event horizon of running a 100 meter sprint in less time than it takes most every other human on the planet to tie their shoes. And though Marcell Jacbos had done it twice before the Tokyo Olympics, he was still given a 3% chance of taking the gold by international oddsmakers in an event that no Italian has ever won. But Jacobs, the son of an Italian mother and African American father, has some experience in beating the odds. Beginning his career as a long jumper and making the switch to sprinting in 2019, Jacobs was the very definition of an underdog; his victory was one of the jewels in what would become the most storied summer in Italian sports history

Khaby Lame

The Modern Day Chaplin

The phrase “silence is golden” might never have been as on the nose as it was this year, thanks to the former factory worker from Chivasso who managed to dominate social media by wordlessly mocking it from his living room. Khabane Lame, the 21 year old TikTok creator who goes by Khaby, catapulted to fame on a simple formula: the more complicated people make life, the funnier it is to watch someone else simplify it. Khaby’s knowing eye roll and shoulder shrug with outstretched palms became a shorthand for a world taking itself just a bit too seriously, and his gentle observations made us all feel a little more sane. He’s become one of the most followed TikTok creators in the world by effectively reviving silent film acting more than a century after it debuted. And like those films stars before him, Khaby Lame has become a symbol of something larger. Though he has lived in Italy for nearly all his life, his birth in Senegal has made it difficult to obtain Italian citizenship and his outspoken stance against racism caused a backlash that might have made other influencers reverse course. But as Khaby himself says, “I don’t need a piece of paper to define myself as Italian.” We couldn’t have said it better. 


The Rule Breakers  

By all accounts, you shouldn’t even know about Måneskin. As winners of the San Remo and later Eurovision contest, the band from Rome might have maintained a very respectable level of domestic fame, and they might have gotten tired of hearing Zitti e buoni on the radio whenever they entered their local bar for a morning coffee. But in a year where little went according to plan, Måneskin became the most successful act to emerge from the Eurovision contest since Celine Dion, making them something much more than a flash in the pan. The group of high school students who start out as buskers have broken record upon record both in Italy and abroad as well as winning international music awards and other pastimes like opening for the Rolling Stones in Las Vegas. But it’s how they’ve done it that continues to intrigue (and sometimes frustrate) so many people inside and out of Italy. They’ve challenged gender stereotypes at the same time that they expanded the definition of what rock and roll can mean; at a time when Italy seems to be backsliding into the dark ages of equal representation, Måneskin have become champions of a lot more than music. 

Roberto Mancini

The Coach 

There is something about football that makes time stand still, and no moment so perfectly captured 2021 than the victory of the Italian squad in the Euro 2020 this July. If you are a longstanding fan or follower, you’ll have favorite players or moments or strategic moves. If you are one of the millions of people who held your breath until the last penalty kick, the face you might remember best is that of Roberto Mancini, the player turned coach that led his squad through the three group stage matches without conceding a goal. Mancini excelled as a coach precisely because he learned from the mistakes he made as a player: he admits that his temper and poor choices led him to stubbornly sit out of trips to tournaments and the World Cup. But it is precisely moments like these that lead to the ever elusive wisdom that defines great coaches, and great men. After the Italian squad clinched their berth in the final, Mancini said of the tournament, “there comes a time when you have to suffer, because it can’t always be smooth, it can’t always be pretty.” His words could have defined the past two years in Italy, and yet what he delivered was something beautiful. 

Giorgio Parisi

The Scientist 

It is not given to most of the world to understand what it means to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics “for the discovery of the interplay of disorder and fluctuations in physical systems from atomic to planetary scales,” but that’s why Giorgio Parisi is the one with his name on the plaque. The theoretical physicist comes from a family of construction workers in Rome and might have continued the tradition had he not been so taken by the challenge of ideas. While his beginnings may have been humble, his rise to the top of his field has been dazzling, and with good reason. Giorgio Parisi could have stopped at a Nobel Prize, and that would have been more than enough by anyone’s estimation. Instead, he has used his status to decry the lack of scientific funding in Italy as well as put the spotlight on the dangers that climate change poses to humanity. At a time when science has been threatened and the world is peering dangerously over the cliff’s edge between reason and madness, Giorgio Parisi isn’t just proving the existence of matter, but showing all of us why we need to keep paying attention. 

Federica Pellegrini

La Divina 

Anyone who can lay claim to being the second swimmer ‘after Michael Phelps’ to do something should automatically enter into the realm of the gods, but the tenacious Federica Pellegrini was born to be there anyway. The swimming great was once again a triumph at the 2020 Tokyo games, making history by qualifying for the Olympic final in the 200 meter freestyle for the fifth time. It was a crowning achievement that also signaled her exit from international competition: the 33 year old announced her retirement after the 2021 season, with her last race taking place in November in Riccione. ‘La Divina’, as she has become known, emerged victorious in the race and upon doing so convinced Giovanni Malagò, president of Italy’s Olympic Committee, to dive into the pool in his clothes alongside her. It was a bittersweet and beautiful end to a glorious career that inspired a generation of women in Italy and around the swimming world. And not even Michael Phelps could get someone to jump into a pool with him. 

Stefano Pontecorvo

The Diplomat 

Frequently, politics is a tightly choreographed dance performed for the cameras while the real work of securing states and citizens is happening simultaneously, far beyond the public gaze. Men and women like Stefano Pontecorvo know this very well: indeed, they depend on it in order to do their jobs. But for the last weeks of summer, when most of us were soaking up the last rays of sunshine before our holidays ended, Pontecorvo was at the center of a global catastrophe in the city he’d known since childhood. The career diplomat was tasked with coordinating the evacuation of Afghanistan before the rapid advancement of Taliban forces into the capital, Kabul. Before he left on one of the last flights out, he had helped secure the departure and safe passage of 124,000 people, including 5,000 Afghan citizens who were given refuge in Italy. For a moment, Pontecorvo emerged from behind the scenes to give a glimpse into the difficult, delicate, and often dangerous world of diplomacy. And then he was back at it, because there are always more people to save. 

Gino & Cecilia Strada

The Fighters 

There is a cruel irony to the idea that Gino Strada’s death coincided almost exactly with the exodus out of Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban government takeover, propagating even more of the violence that Strada fought against over his entire career as a surgeon. Yet his organization, Emergency, refused to abandon their posts in field hospitals around the country, and they continue providing lifesaving medical care to thousands of people around the world who are the victims of political violence and neglect. Even more poignantly, Cecilia Strada was not with her father on his passing; instead, she was at sea aboard M/V ResQ People, a humanitarian vessel in the Mediterranean Sea dedicated to assisting migrants who make the perilous crossing. As she wrote in a Facebook post, “of all the places I could have been, I am here, saving lives. Just as my mother and father taught me.” In an age where it is comfortable and even reasonable to close our eyes to catastrophe and wait until “things get back to normal,” Gino and Cecilia Strada continue fighting for dignity and humanity, passing the baton without missing a beat. 

Beatrice Vio

The Gladiator 

When Bebe Vio, as she is affectionately known to her more than one million Instagram followers, takes to the fencing stage, it looks as much like watching a cobra strike as it does a fencer. Vio seems to coil and recoil, and she almost always seems to win. It’s no small feat for someone who relies on four prosthetic limbs after a childhood bout with meningitis that forced doctors to amputate both of her legs at the knees and both of her arms at the forearm. The championship streak that began in Rio 2016 continued this year, as Vio took home her second gold medal in wheelchair fencing from the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics, but her star has only started to rise. She is an author, motivational speaker and an advocate for people with impairments around the world, but more than any of these things she is a force of nature who lives just as fiercely as she holds her sword.

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