WHO AM I?
A story which in large part is still to be written
Let’s see, where shall I start? I’ll avoid invention and start… from the beginning.
I was born the first of June, 2001 in Locarno, on Lago Maggiore. I still reside in Gambarogno, a village just a few kilometers away from Locarno, with my parents and my older sister Asia, born in 1998.
I had a special feeling for being in water since I was a small child: I began swimming without any assistance of flotation devices even before I was three years old. My style was a very personal one, somewhat resembling the butterfly stroke.
Nevertheless, I only began competitive swimming thanks to my sister, who began the sport when she was 8 years old. Before that, no one in my family had ever participated in swimming as a sport. In light of my love of water and of my insistence on wanting to begin, at 6 years old I joined the swimming club Nuoto Sport Locarno in October 2007. The following month I participated in my first Kids competition. Then in May, 2008, I competed for the first time in a long course pool where I won the 50 meter Butterfly in the 1999 category and won as the youngest with a time of 49.42. Who knows if one day I will be able to complete the 100 meter in the same time?
From that initial competition in Mendrisio, 10 years have gone by… and thousands of kilometers in the pool as well.
I attended the elementary school in Quartino (Gambarogno) and then attended middle school in Vira and Cadenazzo.
In September 2016, thanks in part to my athletic achievements, I was able to begin a special Liceo (advanced high school) for elite athletes, which means that the duration of the school is 5 years rather than the standard 4. My weekly academic schedule is a bit lighter, a maximum of 25 hours a week, with the academic courses spread out over 5 years. In this way, I am able to train both mornings and evenings and still have sufficient study time. I am lucky that I never have had particular difficulties in school, so with a bit of organization, some help from my sister, some sacrifices and some nudging on the part of my parents, I am able to maintain reasonably good grades. My family plays an important role in my development, and not just for sports; we try together to find solutions to any problems which might arise and they all form part of my team who accompanies me to each sporting event.
From September 2017, I began pool training 10 times a week with an additional 4 to 5 times a week training sessions in the gym. Both my trainer, Massimo Baroffio and my physiotherapist Stefano Grosjean, believe that it would be premature to undertake heavy weight training, so I follow a disciplined program that is very targeted and gradual. Also in pool practices, my trainer’s philosophy is that it is more important to give emphasis to quality and intensity, rather than the kilometers or duration of the training. Therefore I normally swim only 4-5 kilometers per session, depending, of course, on the practice period.
More than one trainer has observed that it is still too early to identify which style of stroke will best suit me as an adult. However, we all are pretty certain which stroke will not make me a champion: breaststroke. In fact, although I am not following a specialized training for a specific stroke, I have to admit that I only do breaststroke training to obtain a respectable result in a medley competition. On the other hand, I know that if I would like to solidify my results in a 200m or 400m meter medley, I have to train seriously. For the moment, I prefer the butterfly stroke (50,100 and 200m), without neglecting the backstroke (100m and especially 200m, preferably in short course and freestyle (200 and 400m). I like the medley events, where I prefer to engage in the 200m, given my “breaststroke talent”.
When I am not afloat in chlorinated water, and when I don’t have to study, I love to relax by watching films on television or at the cinema, and by listening to music. Like most kids my age, I also play videogames, although I have very limited time for that. I particularly enjoy traveling, visiting new cities and places, relaxing in the sea or at the spa (water again!). Together with my family, I have visited numerous Italian and European cities, and many places in Italy, France, Egypt, England, Scotland, Ireland. I especially love Venice, (maybe because of the water?), but my dream is to travel in America, where I hope to train one day and to attend university once I have graduated from Liceo.
Because I was born in Ticino, the Italian-speaking canton of Switzerland, other than my mother-tongue Italian, I have had the opportunity to learn French, German and lately English, which I am still perfecting. German is the language I most use when I am together with my fellow teammates on the national team. I really enjoy talking with my competitors; during international competitions I have become friends with swimmers from different countries, beginning with my Italian friends but also Russian, Israeli, British and Polish, just to name a few. Thanks in part to social media, I am able to remain in contact with many of them, but I have amplified some of these friendships due to the fact that I became part of the Swiss National Youth Team in the summer of 2015. As of August 2017, I am also part of the elite squad for the Tokyo Olympics 2020. What was only a dream a few years ago has become a concrete objective: participating in the Olympics. Nonetheless, if I manage to participate in the Tokyo Olympics with the National Team, I must still concentrate on an intermediate objective in my development as an athlete. I am still very young and, as my trainers say, a swimmer reaches maturity only from 22 years on.
Returning to the present (and with my feet on the ground…but always soaking in water), I am perfectly aware that above all, I must concentrate on my training and on the international competitions alongside my teammates on the National Team. After the great results in 2017, a silver medal (100m butterfly) and two bronze medals (200m butterfly and 200m medley) at the European Youth Olympic Festival in Györ, three finals and a fourth place (100m butterfly) at the European Junior Swimming Championships in Netanya and participation in the European Short Course Swimming Championships in Copenhagen – with an absolute Swiss record for the 100m butterfly, my principal engagements this year have been the European Junior Championships in Helsinki, where I achieved three individual finals and 2 finals in the relays and the Glasgow European Championship. I now look ahead to the Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires in October 2018.
My busy schedule allows me to take a break for a few weeks in October, before I begin the preparation for the 2019 schedule, during which I will attempt to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games.
I have a lot of work to do, both in the pool and at school – but it’s important to like what you do. For me, swimming is a passion.
Another year has passed by and with it an intense period of training, competitions, study and much more: a year of emotions!
After a few weeks of school, in October 2018 I participated, as planned, in the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires. Unique experience for the climate that you breathe in the Olympic village, place of meetings with peers from all over the world, who practice swimming and especially many sports other than mine. I was thrilled at the opening ceremony, where I had the honour of carrying the flag of Switzerland, in front of the more than 250,000 people who poured into the street and main square of Buenos Aires. From a sporting point of view, I took part in two finals (100 butterfly and 200 individual medley), coming close to another one in the 200 butterfly. If on the one hand, given the competition, I can certainly be satisfied with my performances, on the other hand there is the doubt that, having had to practically extend until October a season that was exhausted and conditioned (physically and mentally) by mononucleosis, my performances in Argentina, in terms of time, were also partially influenced by this. In any case, right from the start I have put aside any possible excuse, to fully enjoy the event and to look forward to new goals.
The season, from November onwards, began with the focus on the European Youth Championships in Kazan, scheduled for July 2019. The declared objective was to achieve a podium.
In the run-up to this event, my timekeeping performance has been constantly improving and has led me, among other things, to win some Swiss titles both in the short course (November 2018) and in the long course (March 2019).
The school also went on without any particular problems and this allowed me to remain focused on swimming.
Particularly gratifying and important in my growth as an athlete were the international meetings in Nice (Golden Tour Camille Muffat), Monte Carlo (Mare Nostrum) and the Settecolii in Rome, in the splendid setting of the Foro italico.
I arrived so loaded and motivated in Kazan, where I graduated European Youth Champion of the 50 meters butterfly, in the time of 23.48, championship record and Swiss absolute record: I was obviously over the moon!
After a holiday in Moscow with my family and the participation in the Swiss Youth Championships, I was able to enjoy the well-deserved rest in the beautiful island of Lampedusa.
The season of COVID-19...
All we can do is simply take note: the COVID-19 virus and its pandemic have changed our lives in a short time and continue to do so. We hope that we can get out of this bad situation as soon as possible and, above all, that humanity will also be able to grasp the inevitable lessons that can, must be drawn when facing and overcoming a situation of this gravity.
Even my private, sports and study life has evidently been conditioned by what happened on a planetary level. The 2019-2020 swimming season began with the problem of finding myself, despite everything and in the Olympic year, without the coach who raised me in the NSL. I decided to react immediately to this situation and I switched to 100% training with Swiss Swimming Training Base, always in Tenero. My luck was that in part I was already training with them, in collaboration with my previous coach. The transition was therefore quite painless and the results arrived immediately. The best happened at the European Championships in short course in Glasgow, at the beginning of December, where I almost made it to a final (200 butterfly) and setting the Swiss record in the 100 butterfly. About ten days later, I competed in the Italian Open Championships (Riccione, long course), where I was able to improve my times in the races I competed in and I was able to obtain the qualification for the European long pool championships in Budapest.
As far as swimming is concerned, I could almost close here: after a good preparation in January and February, the advent of COVID-19 and the consequent lockdown interrupted all swimming activities and cancelled all the events that coincided with my seasonal goals: in order, Swiss championships, European Championship in Budapest and, icing on the cake, the Tokyo Olympics.
Two months without touching the water in the pool, during which I concentrated on dry physical preparation and distance schooling. Two months of life with my family, almost in seclusion, during which we all rediscovered some values; for my part, I never stopped looking ahead in a positive way. During this period I decided to start contacting some universities in the United States, initially choosing five of the many that had written to me, and starting a long and pleasant series of video calls. When training resumed in mid-May, I continued to deepen these contacts, reducing the number of universities to three.
After spending the month of May to regain the feeling with the water, during summer I continued to train until the beginning of August, when I spent a week's vacation in St. Moritz, followed by a couple of days in the canton of Appenzell. When I got back from the mountains, I was able to resume my training while waiting for the start of my last year of high school.
For the new season, COVID-19 permitting, the goals remain the same as last year: first of all the European Championships in Budapest and, of course, the Tokyo Olympics.
From September 2021, after what I hope will be my first Olympic participation, I have decided in these days to start a new adventure at North Carolina State University, where I intend to pursue my goals in swimming and where I will attend the Faculty of Economics.
Finally the Olympics!
"Dressel touches the wall, then Milak…there’s Minakov…and now it’s really necessary to go all out: a return leg important for Noè for him to get a medal! We don’t want to sound blasphemous, but now is the time to call out another biblical figure…Because Noè, this is really the moment to separate, to open these waters, to go ahead and achieve something incredible! Dressel touches the wall, then yes, yes, YES…Noè Ponti, the bronze medal! It’s crazy, extraordinary! We never thought this could happen! Him, there, among the best butterfly swimmers in the world…"
It was August 31, 2021, and with these words and obviously emotional participation, the sports reporter of the Ticino television RSI Andrea Mangia shouted out commentary in the studio on the return leg of the 100 meter butterfly at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, alongside Igor Nastic, technical commentator, almost paralyzed by the tension and emotion. My family, and probably many others who were following the live broadcast from home, could only hear these words later, in the numerous replays shown on television and on social networks. The emotion and cheering during the live broadcast, so I was told, threw everyone into a nearly surreal euphoria, so much so that it was impossible to hear any televised commentary, not even the very emotional and authentic one of Andrea. This medal comes at the end of a season that has seen me grow steadily in performance and in the belief that I could do well among the greats of swimming.
But let’s go back a bit…
In August 2020, I resumed training after a brief break, with as much determination as possible. My seasonal goals at that time were, as I had published at the time on this same website, to score at least one final at the European Championships in Budapest and to score a final at the Olympic Games in Tokyo; this last goal, of course, achieved only by obtaining the necessary qualifying times in order to go to Japan. In September I also began the last year of high-school, graduating with an average of just over 5 (for those who are not Swiss, the grades go from 1 to 6). Considering the numerous school absences due to my swimming commitments, I would say that I am more than satisfied with my scholastic results.
At the end of summer 2020, I also officially announced my choice to continue my studies at North Carolina State University, where I enrolled in the Economics department and where I would have continued my swimming program with the University team. I think I should explain that at that moment, and practically until after the end of the Tokyo Olympics, no one, apart from the discussions within my own family and team, ever questioned me as to why I made that choice or if I was really sure about it. It involved a decision made over a long process of inquiry involving people close to me, and processing information that I received from many people, Swiss and European, who had lived or were still living the American experience, combining university study with high-level swimming. My decision was deliberated, keeping in mind the pros and cons, deepening some of the doubts I had during 2021. It involved a life choice, with the knowledge that I could not, and cannot, be sure that everything would go well. I decided to move to the U.S. to get to know a different life, to test myself in academic studies, to decisively improve my English, and, generally, to have new experiences in swimming and in life. I never would want to have, in the future, regrets for not taking the chance to live the life of a student and an athlete on a university campus.
But let’s pick up again the story of this amazing 2021-22 season. After having participated, in the middle of the preparations for the most important swim meets, in the Swiss Short Course Championships, at the beginning of December I competed in the Rotterdam Qualification Meet: three days which took an almost unexpected turn, as I obtained the qualification for Tokyo in the 200 and 100 meter butterfly, raising my level, especially in the last category, to the highest seasonal world rankings. These performances gave me renewed awareness of my possibilities and helped me to work even harder for my seasonal goals, with the serenity of someone who had already secured the qualification for the Olympics.
From a swimming point of view, the first part of 2021 was carried out calmly and with constant dedication, without encountering problems, participating in various preparation meets and in the Swiss Long Course Championships, repeatedly confirming my performance at excellent levels. And so I arrived at the European Championships in Budapest, sure of my abilities and in better form than ever, which I demonstrated on the first occasions of entering the water in Hungary. In spite of the two finals of the 100 and 200 butterfly (which met one of my seasonal objectives), even in the light of the Tokyo results, I can’t be completely satisfied with what I achieved at the European Championships and most especially with the management of my commitments by the leaders of the National team. I was pushed to participate in many relays, even those that were very close in timing to my individual races, bringing me to a state of physical and psychological fatigue, which certainly influenced my performance. Nonetheless, I tried to make the best out of the situation and after a few days of rest, I immediately resumed my preparations for the Olympics. In June of this year, between final exams, I continued my training, participating in the International Seven Hills Trophy in Rome where, even though I already felt overextended, I won a couple of medals and achieved promising chronometric results. July was dedicated to refining the preparations for Tokyo 2020, first at the National Sports Center in Tenero ( my home training base) and then in Fuji, Japan, where together with the National Team we recharged and got acclimated, before going on to experience the incredible adventure of the Olympic Games.
I already mentioned the Tokyo races, the bronze medal in the 100 butterfly, in the beginning of this narrative. I’d just like to add how pleased I was with the sixth place in the 4 x 200 freestyle with my teammates on the National Team (an historic result for Switzerland), and the good performance in the 200 butterfly (excluded from the final for the slightest of reasons) where, I realized later, I could have done even better, attempting even more in the semi-finals. For other accounts of this Olympic adventure and of the wonderful experience of the Olympic village, I refer you to the numerous articles which appeared in print and social media, as well as my various radio and television interviews in these past months, some of which you will find links to on this site.
Of my return to Switzerland, and the various celebrations and numerous expressions of esteem which I received, I can only say how grateful I am to all, and how happy I am to have stirred up such positive thoughts and emotions for many people here in Ticino, in Switzerland and even beyond!
And now, I look forward with trust and determination towards new goals.