“Polar bears do it, penguins do it, even crazy Roman residents do it…”
It was 1946 when Rick De Sonay, a former Belgian Olympic diver looking for work as a stuntman, decided that plunging from the Cavour Bridge in Rome at midnight on New Year’s Eve might draw attention to his job search efforts. After making the leap and emerging from the icy, black depths unharmed, he signaled with his hand the international sign for “I’m OK” and the name stuck. “Mr.OK”, as he was known from that first publicity stunt until his death in 1988 at the age of 89, began a Roman tradition that lives on nearly 67 years later.
The wacky event was eventually moved to New Year’s Day and gets its midday start by a cannon fired at noon from the Gianicolo (Janiculum) hill. Throngs of spectators scramble to find the best spot for viewing these less-than-sane men as they launch themselves off the span and into history.
Although most participants jump feet first into the fabled Tevere, only a hand full have performed this feat with a proper headlong dive into the dangerously shallow waters below. This year, Maurizio Giuseppe Palmulli, who took-over as “Mr.OK” after his inspirational predecessor’s death, will be making his twenty-fifth dive; bartender Marco Fois, is approaching his fifteenth dive.
While Rome isn’t exactly Antarctica, the mercury has been known to drop rather low in January and water temperatures are likely to be a bone-chilling 1C – 5C (34F -41F).
“…Let’s do it, let’s fall into the frigid waters of the Tiber!” Buon Anno! Happy New Year!
Photograph of Cavour Bridge courtesy of eyalos, of Palmulli by usumdelphini89, and of diver by lighthousenewsus.