50 worldwide contenders for 2012: Federica Pellegrini
Swimming (freestyle events)
Pellegrini became Italy's first female Olympic swimming champion in 2008, rebounding from a poor 400m freestyle final (when she was a distant fifth behind Rebecca Adlington) to win 200m freestyle gold in a world record time.
Pellegrini had first illuminated an Olympic Games in 2004 when she took silver in the same event at the age of 16, making her the youngest Italian athlete to win an individual Olympic medal.
She compounded her status as the most successful Italian sportswoman of all time by successfully defending her 200m and 400m freestyle world titles in 2011. Two years earlier, she had become the first woman to swim under four minutes in the 400m freestyle - ensuring she reached her target of setting 10 world records before her 21st birthday.
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Pellegrini went through a period of suffering panic attacks immediately before or during races, starting in November 2008.
She was later diagnosed as asthmatic but the problem was only brought under control after regular sessions with a sports psychologist.
Born in the province of Venice, she is a regular cover girl in Italy, most famously appearing on the front cover of Vanity Fair in 2009 covered only in gold paint.