- By Nick Hope
Aquatics correspondent in Rijeka
Matteo Santoro rounded off his European Junior diving career by retaining his Boys A 3m title on a phenomenal day for the Italian national team in Croatia.
Santoro, who also won synchronised silver and 1m bronze earlier in the week, was joined on the podium by synchro partner Matteo Cafiero, who was second.
Earlier team-mate Elisa Pizzini had claimed her maiden European Junior Diving title, in the Girls B 1m event, with Rebecca Ciancaglini taking silver.
Their successes took Italy’s gold medal haul to four, level with Ukraine, but leading at the summit of the overall medal table with 12 honours to Ukraine’s six, at Rijeka 2023.
Santoro won four European and three World Junior titles during an incredible 2022.
He followed that up with an impressive European Games gold and World Championship bronze in mixed 3m synchro events during a busy first full year as a senior diver and unsurprisingly entered Rijeka 2023 feeling a little fatigued.
After “battling” to bronze in the 1m event and securing a strong silver the 18-year-old Italian claimed the title he craved the most following a dominant display in the Boys A 3m final.
He achieved a combined score of 588.55, with Cafiero (574.45) second and Ukraine’s Kyrylo Azarov (544.35) taking bronze.
“I am very happy because I’m exhausted and ready for a vacation!” Santoro told LEN, with a smile.
“The pool today was perfect to compete as the weather was perfect so I had a lot of fun and I’m really happy because I wanted this gold medal so much.”
Silver medallists Cafiero added; “this is such a special moment and it’s great to be part of this amazing Italian team.”
The Girls A 1m line-up also produced a captivating final, with the main draw being the battle between the Italians Pizzini and Ciancaglini.
Pizzini led from the first round, but her 3m synchronised partner pushed her hard throughout the following three and just 6.50 points would separate the pair at the end of the 1m competition (404.35 vs 397.80).
“I was so nervous in the final round as I knew the last dive had to be really good,” Pizzini admitted to LEN after collecting her gold medal.
“It’s so special because it’s my last Junior Europeans and I’ve never won the gold in the A category 1m and it’s really special to share this with my friend.”
Ciancaglini added; “I’m really happy to be (on the podium) with Elisa, I love her and that makes it all the better. We’re so happy to be part of this team because it’s fantastic and everyone is really supportive.”
Emily Steinhagen of Germany and Great Britain’s Tilly Brown battled it out for bronze with the German edging it by just 2.20 points with her overall total of 379.35.
“It’s my first time here and my goal was to make the finals and I really didn’t expect this,” she told LEN.
“I didn’t know where I’d finished at the end and my coach had to tell me and as I say it’s a dream come true!”