Luca Bellini is regarded as one of the greatest canoe polo players of all times, a reputation forged over more than two decades competing at the highest level.

But as he nears the end of his career, there is still a place set aside in his trophy cabinet for the one medal that has eluded him – a World Games gold medal.

Next week Bellini gets what might be a final chance to rectify that glaring anomaly – his fifth World Games, this time in Birmingham Alabama. The 39-year-old Italian maestro made his World Games debut the same year canoe polo was introduced, and hasn’t missed one since.

“I can't wait to start the tournament, the World Games I think is the most beautiful and at the same time most difficult tournament in the world, because the best athletes and the best national teams are present, consequently the level is very high and it is very nice to compete,” Bellini said this week.

“I was lucky enough to participate in all editions of the World Games, since canoe polo was added. This will be my fifth World Games. I have won all the medals of all national and international competitions, the only one I am missing is the World Games gold medal.”

Bellini has made no official announcement on his future, but there has been speculation this might his final year as a national team member. Almost straight after Birmingham, Bellini and the Italian team will head to Saint Omer in France for the ICF Canoe Polo World Championships.

A winning double would, of course, be the perfect way to bow out.

“This could be my last year in the national team, clearly it's my choice,” he said.

“I have been in the national team for more than 20 years, and even if I still feel very good I think it's time to make room for some younger guys.

“I was lucky enough to have a long and fantastic career, winning practically everything. I'd like to end this year with an important victory, maybe these World Games?”

Moves are afoot to have Bellini move straight from his playing career to a coaching role, possibly in charge of the Italian national team. It’s a challenge that excites him.

“I think there is the possibility in agreement with the federation to become a coach of the national team and I would like this new challenge,” Bellini said.

The Italian men’s team won its first World Games silver medal behind Germany in Wroclaw in 2017, and also has two bronze medals.

Canoe polo competition begins at the World Games on Thursday, July 14, and runs through until Sunday, July 17.

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