Gianni Lonzi was born in Florence, Italy, in 1938, just steps away from the famous swimming club, Rari Nantes Firenze. On his first visit to the club, the legendary water polo figure Giordano Goggioli threw him into the River Arno, saying: “Now you have to swim.”
Lonzi excelled in swimming. At the age of 15 he won a national title in the backstroke, but he could not resist the fascination of the ball and the cage of water polo. In 1953, he made his debut in the 1st Division of the Italian Water Polo League where he proved to be an all-around and tenacious player. He played for RN Firenze from 1953-1963, combining the roles of player, captain and coach.
In 1964, he moved to Camogli and assisted his team to its promotion to the 1st Division. In 1967 and 1968, he played for Pro Recco and won two National Championship titles. He played on the National Team from 1958 up to the 1968 Mexico Olympic Games, winning the gold medal at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. He also participated in the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
After he concluded his career as an athlete in 1968, Hall of Famer Mario Majoni, the National Team coach, called on him to coach the National Junior Team. A few years later, he replaced Majoni and led Italy to a bronze medal at the 1975 World Championships, silver at the 1976 Olympic Games, and the gold at the 1978 World Championships.
During this time, he also coached the 1977 and 1982 National Junior Team to gold medals. If that wasn’t enough, he became the Vice Chairman of the LEN Water Polo Committee in 1988 and was appointed to the FINA Technical Water Polo Committee (TWPC) in 1992. He also became Chair of the TWPC in 1996, a position he would continue to hold through 2012.
Among his many achievements as Chairman of the committee that sets the agenda for world water polo was the addition of women’s water polo to the Olympic program, as well as the establishment of the FINA World Water Polo Leagues for both men and women.