Leading scientist Mauro Giacca impatient to see World Championship matches in Trieste
Do your staff know you are a former volleyball player?
Sometimes I try to recall my sporting career, but only with little success, because in the end I was not that outstanding.
There are only a few scientists who have played twenty editions of their country’s national volleyball league. Could you tell us about your career in the sport?
I started playing for the junior team of Arc Linea, which at that time was competing in Italy’s first division. I also played for that same team when they changed their name and restarted their activity from the third division. I played for a few other teams in Italy’s second division and ended up becoming the coach of Ferro Alluminio, a volleyball club from my home town. After that, I moved to Pavia, where I ended my career at the age of 33.
Your current studies in genetics require a lot of tests and dedication. As a player, did you apply the same principles?
Absolutely. Back then we were convinced that our results would depend on hard work and therefore we devoted many hours to our physical preparation. However, sports science did not exist and coaches improvised a lot. There was very little contribution from physiology as well.
Do genetics and biotechnology explore solutions that can be applied to sport as well?
There are at least two different levels on which genetics and sports interact. Genetics focuses on studying people who excel in sports and have specific genes. A few years ago, we conducted a study on a few English Olympic champions and we got some interesting insights. We realised that their success also depended on their genes in terms of muscular structure, vascularisation and hypertrophy. Other genes also have an impact on mental strength for example. On top of this, we can use genes to modify a body’s features and to enhance an athlete's performances. We also receive funds from the World Anti-Doping Agency, WADA, to study applications and methods to detect any possible injection of genes into people's muscles, something which is used in order to enhance performances and that anti-doping agencies are not able to detect.
Let’s go back to your volleyball career. Which role did you have in your teams?
I played in many different positions: setter, wing-spiker and opposite. However, what I liked the most was playing as a setter since there you have to use your head and that role combines technique, intelligence, tactics and the ability to make your decisions as quickly as possible. This is something I can apply in my current job as well. On top of this, volleyball like any other team sport helps to build your character and personality. The fact that you meet your teammates every day to train and that during a match you share joys and sorrows as well as sacrifices, balancing a performance if somebody is playing well or if a teammate is not in good shape, creates a unique bond. When I meet former teammates, we immediately find the old spirit of solidarity, friendship and empathy. That doesn’t occur in any other field of social life.
The FIVB Women’s World Championship is approaching. Trieste will host Pool B, which features Brazil, Serbia, Turkey, Canada, Bulgaria and Cameroon. Will you be in the stands?
I look forward to the beginning of the event and will do my best to see some of the matches; in particular, I’d like to see the strong Brazilian team.
One last question: have you got a volleyball in the trunk of your car or knee pads stored in your wardrobe?
No, I don’t have knee pads because I never used them, but I have a volleyball of course, even if my attempts to encourage my children to take up this wonderful sport have not been successful.