Short track-Italian Olympic gold medallist Fontana hints at U.S. switch

FILE PHOTO: Athlete Arianna Fontana poses after disembarking with the Olympic delegation from an aircraft, at Malpensa airport in Milan, Italy February 21, 2022. REUTERS/Flavio Lo Scalzo

MILAN (Reuters) - Italy's most decorated female Olympian, record breaking short track speed skater Arianna Fontana, has hinted she might switch allegiance to the U.S. after a breakdown in relations with her national skating federation.

The decision could leave Italy without one of its key athletes when it hosts the 2026 winter Olympics in Milan and Cortina.

In an Instagram post on Wednesday, the 32-year-old said she had "explored new options" while training in Salt Lake City, Utah.

She said she joined a trip her husband had already planned to see what the U.S. and the city could offer should she decide to continue her Olympic journey, pointing to unresolved issues with her home federation.

"I cannot justify competing for a federation that forgives behaviours and decisions that hurt me," Fontana said.

"I have important decisions to make and all the cards are on the table, even those I thought I would never consider," she wrote.

A rift between her and the Italian national skating federation reportedly emerged after it opposed her choice of husband and Italian-American citizen Anthony Lobello as coach after the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

Things got worse when Fontana claimed she had been harassed by male national team athletes during training.

Her ex-coach Stelio Conti told Italian news wire AGI on Thursday that "taking into account what she said, the possibility of Arianna Fontana going to compete for the U.S. is quite real."

The Italian national skating federation reacted with a statement expressing "its astonishment and regret for the serious remarks" made by Fontana, calling them unhelpful amid efforts to find common ground ahead of the 2026 Games.

"Medals are and remain important, but they will never be more important than respect, education, professionalism and fair play," the federation added.

Last February, Fontana won three medals in Beijing, bringing her personal Olympic medal tally to 11 - more than any other short tracker, female or male - but cast doubt over her presence at the following games.

"Things with the federation are what they are," she had said during the Games.

Fontana, who made her Games debut in 2006 in Turin, is two medals shy of the Italian Olympic record held by former fencer Edoardo Mangiarotti, who won his 13 medals across five Summer Games between 1936 and 1960.

($1 = 0.9200 euros)

(Reporting by Federico Maccioni, editing by Alvise Armellini; Editing by Toby Davis)

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