Photographer & Text: Angelo Cricchi
Fashion Editor: Silvia Mongelli
Make-Up & Hair: Francesca Petrangeli

A cheerful photo. Four girls partying and waving the Italian flag. They are athletes, they have just won the Student Games and they’re wearing blue tracksuits and throwing their muscular arms in the air. The photo is reposted by Saviano, and then by the major newspapers. Salvini also intervenes. One of those involuntary media cases ensues. What is so special about this photo? That they are all black women who represent the Italian national team. The fastest of these is Benedicta. I met Benedicta 7 years ago at a party. Beautiful, slender, tall. I asked her if she was a model. She replied, “No, I run. And my eyes lit up. Today she’s the fastest Italian woman over 400 metres and doesn’t want to hear about racism.

Tell me something about Benedicta.
I was born in Rome, and I consider myself 100% Roman. I live in Rieti because it’s the centre for athletics. Racism doesn’t exist in my sport. Skin colour makes no difference. The stopwatch makes the difference. Almost half of the Italian sprinters are black and there’s no kind of division between us. It would be unthinkable. Engaging in sport like this would be a great way to improve cultural cohesion for young people. Working hard together brings you closer. Times have changed. I am a Roman, born in Rome, I am black because my father came to Italy many years ago from Africa and married my mother. There are many from the second generation like me and in sport there is great naturalness in accepting this. There are a lot of black athletes in the national team. In our 4×400 we are all black, 3 out of 4 girls are black in the 4×100 relay team. Gloria Hooper, Jo Herrera, Fausto de Salvo is an excellent 200m sprinter. In the 100m, next to the really white Tortu, there is Marcell Jacobs, of Afro-American origins, and the middle-distance runner Yeman Crippa. By now it’s normal, that’s how it is, and it’s not that I don’t feel Italian because I’m black. I feel I’m a fully-integrated Italian. It’s a change that must be accepted.

Tell me about your event.
The 400m is the best event because it’s the race you live the most. The Americans call it the “killer event”, but to me it’s the opposite. It’s life. It makes you worried but at the same time it’s the most exciting race. Tiring, scary. It’s the longest sprint. That is, the one that is done flat out. I’ve learnt how to distribute it over the parts of the body during the first part so that I can give everything that remains down the home straight. You have to give your soul, put your heart, your head and your legs into it. You have to give everything; as if you gave a little more than what you have at your disposition. The 200m is beautiful. Skim the curve. But the 400m is deeper. It’s deep stuff, emotional. You may have run it a hundred thousand times, but each time it’s a new race. A dilemma. Will I make it to the end? Every 400m race is a new adventure. My personal best is 51.67, set in 2015. That year in the relay at the world championships I had a bad day in an important race because it was the qualification for the Rio Olympics. I was in the last leg and I messed the race up, I was beaten by a Polish athlete who passed me right on the line. I saw a shadow that was about to overtake me, and I stumbled, dropping the baton. The team was disqualified. I lost the team’s confidence. I began to focus on myself to regain confidence. And I was able to do something I’d never done before, breaking my record one race after another, getting the minimum required for the world championships on my last opportunity. And everyone started to believe in me again.

You’re the testimonial of PANTENE together with Chiara Ferragni, Lea T. and Chiara Scelsi.
Yes, they contacted me via Instagram which is linked to my email. When I saw my partners, I didn’t believe it. It was a wonderful experience. They treat me like a princess. They’re very kind. I really like to pose and I have a younger sister who is starting to work as a model. I’ve always been attracted by fashion and I don’t exclude, once I’ve hung up my spikes, working in that field.