28 Mar 2022

People of Cortina: Diego Menardi

Reading 7min
Foto di Diego Menardi seduto, con a fianco un bob.

With his shop in Cortina d’Ampezzo, he is the only bobsleigh builder in Europe. After seven Olympics, he immediately knows who has the makings of a champion.

On the outskirts of Cortina d'Ampezzo there is a small, super tidy metalworking shop that is home to one of Italy's greatest bobsleigh connoisseurs: Diego Menardi. Gentle, cunning eyes introduce a face marked by experience, travel and the cold. Hands marked by years, work and dirty with experience. He has lived with bobsleigh since the age of 16 and embodies the passion of an area that has fallen in love with this magnificent sport since the early 20th century. Dry in his expressions, polite in his gestures, Diego welcomed us, explained and told us about Cortina d'Ampezzo, the Queen of the Dolomites.


Foto di Diego Menardi


How old are you?



And how many years have you been building bobsleighs?

Well, practically forever. I started in 1976 in a bobsleigh factory here in Cortina. I was 16 years old and I haven't stopped since.


How many bobsleighs have you built in your career?

I can count the ones I built when I started working for the teams: since 1985 I have built over 50.


How long does it take to build a bobsleigh?

It's hard to say exactly because there are many different professionals working together under the guidance of one person. A 1-man bobsleigh designed for the athlete's training requires more or less 45 days of work, whereas the more you move towards means to be used in international competitions, the more the days increase.


Why this passion?

First of all, it has to be said that the bobsleigh has always been an institution in Cortina and for the people of Cortina and many have been inspired by it. Then I can't deny that I didn’t have a great desire to study and when I stopped going to school I thought that the best place to go and work was in a factory where bobsleighs were made.


What was it like to dive down the Eugenio Monti track?

I wouldn't know. Because of a motorbike accident, which scarred my life, I was never able to access the bobsleigher’s course and, ironically, I was never able to experience the sport from a competitive standpoint. However, I recovered as a mechanic.


But you still got a lot of satisfaction: you were even selected by the Canadian national team. Correct?

Yes. I was selected by the Canadians from 1985 to 1995.


Why not the Italian national team?

I don’t know. At the time, the Canadians called me. And I wanted to travel and have a different experience. I thought it was the best solution.


What is the most important thing to build a good bobsleigh?

The most complex part is the frame with the mechanical components and their position. Everything has to be thought out and imagined for a sport whose speed relies on the force of gravity and the ability of the vehicle to come out of every bend with a very good spin.


How important is the athlete and how important is the bob?

Nowadays, I think an athlete makes up for more than 70% of the final result with his or her own drive. The rest is divided equally between the frame, the skates and the aerodynamics.


What is the maximum speed a bobsleigh can reach?

A 4-man bobsleigh can reach up to 160 km/h.


Do you remember anyone who made special requests during the development phase?

Every bobsleigh is always born out of special needs. When you work at a high level, you pay the utmost attention to every detail. In particular, when you're building a bobsleigh for teams that are going to be involved in international competitions, you listen a lot to the different needs of the bobsleigher, which obviously vary depending on the athlete.


Do you remember when the Bob Club in Cortina was born?

Of course I do! It was born in 1948 as an independent club. Before that it was part of the ice sports, although later, at least in Italy, bobsleighing was not included in the Ice Sports Federation. In the rest of the world, bobsleighing often has its own Federation.


Why was the Bob Club born in Cortina?

First of all, because there has been a track in Cortina since 1928, and therefore a great tradition born of the possibility of experimenting, training and letting the best athletes in circulation compete.


What does Eugenio Monti represent for Cortina?

Eugenio has always been a great champion who also on a human level has always shown great sensitivity and education. And then he was gifted with an uncommon fair play. Everyone knows the story of the "bolt of Innsbruck" with which he basically handed over to the English not only the bolt needed to compete, but also the gold medal victory. But when he was criticised for the gesture, he replied that the British had not won because he had lent them his bolt. They had won because they had gone faster than the others.


Foto di Diego Menardi


What a fine example of true sporting spirit! That's the Olympic spirit, don't you think?

Absolutely. For Eugenio, competition and true victory were always achieved by competing against the best and never against those who were damaged by bad luck. I think this is the best example that a young person can discover when reading the history of this great Italian athlete.


Are there any athletes from Cortina whom you believe are capable of making it to the Olympics and Paralympics?

Of course I do! Flavio Menardi is a very good young para-athlete who has just started competing in World Cups and who, in the future, I hope will be able to make it to the Paralympics in 2026, perhaps as a demonstration sport.


How many Olympics have you been to?

7: from Calgari 1988 to Vancouver 2010. Some as a mechanic, others as a judge. Today, after many, many races spent observing, correcting, and fixing, I realise that I can recognise every single imperfection in the bobsleigh and every single error caused by the bobsleigher


Why do you continue to build bobsleighs?

For at least three different reasons: first of all because I am a great fan and a great supporter of this magnificent sport. Secondly, because I am the vice-president of the Cortina Bob Club and the fact that I continue to build more and more modern and avant-garde bobsleighs is a sense of responsibility. And finally, to continue to bring to life the passion and fun that bobsleigh can give to the public.


Are you happy that there is the opportunity to experience the Olympics and Paralympics in Cortina again?

The Olympics and Paralympics are an enormous opportunity for Cortina: both from a social standpoint and also from an economic and reputational one. Our area lives mainly on tourism and an event of this kind will certainly bring prosperity through the relaunch of the economy and the publicity that will enhance an area whose roots lie above all else in tourism. Suffice it to say that Cortina has enjoyed incredible notoriety also and above all thanks to the 56th Games.


What makes Cortina unique?

The panorama! The Dolomites and the valley that welcome anyone arriving in Cortina are unparalleled. A breath-taking sight that is a delight for the eyes and soul.


Do you already have an heir?

Not at the moment. There's a young boy who comes to work with me in the summer - once school has ended - and who is gradually becoming interested in this job and on whom, who knows, we may be able to rely on in the future. But of course everything depends on him. Nothing can be forced.


Where would you take a tourist arriving in Cortina for the first time?

I'd show him the Olympic ski jump, which will be renovated, and the new bobsleigh run. Then I'd take him to admire the town from above, from one of our many mountain huts at high altitude, where I'd let him taste casunziei, a typical Ampezzo ravioli filled with red beetroot.


Where will you be in 2026?

I don't know. We'll see. I certainly won't be in the stands as a spectator, but in support of the organisation.


Foto delle mani di Diego Menardi, mentre accarezza il bob.