Federico Burdisso’s trip to the Tokyo Olympics

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Ask anyone in the swimming world about Northwest Olympic and Junior medalist Federico Burdisso, and they’ll mention his poise under pressure.

Ask his older brother and Wildcat teammate, junior Alessandro Burdisso.

“A lot of athletes are struggling because of the pressure, the COVID rules or the fact that no one could watch,” he said. “(For) Federico it’s about being competitive.”

Ask NU Swimming and Diving Director Katie Robinson.

“As far as the expectations or the pressure… it gets pretty intense,” said Robinson. “(He does) a great job of handling this.”

Ask her personal trainer, Simone Palombi.

“He has no mental limits,” said Palombi. “He thinks he can do anything. It is his power.

And yet, around the most crucial races of his life at this year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, Burdisso hit a psychological wall in addition to the pool walls. Having completed three events and won two medals in less than a week, emotional fatigue set in.

“I’m not really a stressed guy. I don’t feel anxiety, but I felt it there, definitely, ”said Burdisso. “I did not leave these Olympics with good feelings.”

The shallow end

Alessandro and Federico were born in Pavia, Italy, located 32 km south of Milan. It didn’t take long for the brothers to get in the water – Alessandro recalled that they started swimming around the age of 3 and 2, respectively.

“We had a summer house near the sea and my mom didn’t really want to pay attention to us every time,” said Alessandro. “From there it just went up and up. “

“Up and up” came quickly. After their first competitions about six years later, the brothers continued to train side by side. Federico started his career as a freestyler, and his butterfly results have caught up with over the years.

When Robinson first met Federico years later, he was exceptional in both shots – but what really set him apart, she said, was his prowess as a “world-class flyer.”

Federico realized that too.

“Flight training is just a lot better than freestyle training, and I enjoy it more,” said Federico. “But flying is difficult. In a race, 200 flies kill me. Sometimes I would like to do freestyle.

As his physical condition improved, Federico’s 200-meter flight times improved like never before. At the 2017 European Junior Swimming Championships in Netanya, Israel, he gained more than four seconds off the time he had posted at the Italian National Championships just two months earlier. Burdisso, who was only 15 at the time, swam a personal best 1: 57.83 to win the silver medal behind Hungary’s Kristóf Milák.

The coaches noticed. Burdisso won the 4 × 100-meter medley relay before leaving Netanya, helping Italy set a new junior world record.

“After that, I was just a different athlete,” said Burdisso. “I don’t know what changed, but I was just a different person.”

Burdisso goes international

Federico had always wanted to study in the United States. Shortly after Netanya, he and Alessandro transferred to Mount Kelly School in the UK to perfect their English to a level sufficient to attend US universities. The boarding school was a bridging opportunity for Burdissos academics, but it also had a 50-meter pool and renowned swim program with Olympic pedigree.

Meanwhile, accolades keep flowing. After winning six medals (including two gold) at the 2017 European Youth Olympic Festival, Burdisso took his talents further abroad, winning medals in Edinburgh, Scotland; Geneva and Indianapolis over the next year.

In the summer of 2018, Stefano Burdisso, Federico’s father, contacted Palombi to train his son. Palombi’s training regimen started off in an unusual way – he sent part of Federico’s training regimen away for Federico to finish on his own.

“At first I didn’t think I could train Federico (this way),” Palombi said. “It was very strange for a young swimmer.”

Federico then started training with the rest of the Palombi squad. Palombi helped the young swimmer with his technique and racing mindset, establishing a “mental network” between the two. It worked – he won bronze at the European Aquatic Championships two months later.

Soon after, Federico caught Robinson’s attention. As the Youth Olympic Games approached in Buenos Aires, Robinson was there to coach another athlete, but she too had been in contact with Stefano. She saw Federico win three medals in three days.

“He didn’t know me then, so he was really reserved and very respectful,” said Robinson. “He was looking forward to the opportunity to compete at a high level and attend a great academic institution. “

College, calm and COVID-19

Federico amassed a multitude of honors over the next 18 months.

He won the 200 butterfly at the 2019 Italian Nationals, set school records in the 200 butterfly and 200 freestyle and became the first Wildcat since 2015 to be named Big Ten Swimmer of the Week – twice.

“(It’s) like a Ferrari,” Palombi said. “Always give everything to win.

When the pandemic interrupted competitions for eight months, Federico decided to stay in Italy with the national team. Even though he trained without Alessandro and Robinson, Federico could work on long-distance technique (NCAA competition uses 25-yard pools, less than half of Olympic pools) and relay transitions with his teammates. long-time Italians. Federico first competed in short course events, but convinced the coaches to initiate long course training four days a week, including Sunday.

Present or not, Palombi could still coach Federico on his mentality.

“It has a lot of quotes and phrases that make you think about life and the state of calm and peace,” Federico said. “(Like) Bruce Lee, visualization.”

According to Palombi, Federico, majoring in statistics and minor in mathematics, focuses best when studying. Palombi, who himself has a degree in economics, said Federico “is bored and more difficult to train” if he is not mentally engaged.

Although Federico considers himself somewhat of an introvert, he said running without spectators is an adjustment.

“Some people don’t like the public; they want to focus, ”Federico said. “But without the audience there is nothing to do.”

Tokyo road

With the Olympics on the horizon, Federico was focused on the laser and he completely halted his freestyle training. He defended his national title in the 200 butterflies and finished second in the 100 butterflies, qualifying for the Olympics in both events. He added two medals at the European Championships in Budapest, Hungary, before flying to Tokyo.

Federico survived the 200 butterfly playoffs and semi-finals, finishing seventh and fourth to reach the medal race. According to Robinson, Federico’s goal for Tokyo was just to advance to the final, aiming for a medal in 2024.

Federico started the final strong, finishing the first 100 meters just a tenth of a second behind the leader.

“That’s one of his strengths – he was pretty quick with the rest of the field,” said Robinson. “One of the things he’s improved at is maintaining that power and speed throughout the race.”

Federico reached the 150-meter mark in second place. He had enough energy to keep the bronze medal behind Milák, the same swimmer who beat him in Netanya and several times since, and Japan’s Tomoru Honda. Federico became the first athlete to win an Olympic medal while registered with NU since 1956.

The atmosphere was destabilizing for Federico and the restrictions linked to the pandemic in the Olympic Village did not facilitate the adjustments. Even after securing a second bronze medal in the 4 × 100-meter medley relay, he felt “more than feeling good” exhaustion.

“We couldn’t leave the village; we couldn’t see other sports, ”said Burdisso. “After our last race, we had 48 hours to go back… it was really stressful.”

Return to Evanston

Federico returned to NU struggling to find motivation in smaller events. He took a month-long hiatus, resumed his freestyle efforts, and recovered for the NCAA season. Recently, he helped break a 14-year-old school relay record at the Purdue Invitational.

Robinson, who acknowledges that Federico may not yet be “at the top of his game”, is not concerned about his post-Olympic progress. For her, the results in February and March – the championship season – are more important.

Four months away from Tokyo, Federico Burdisso is largely the same person. Even after being recognized at a NU football match, he rarely brags about his accomplishments.

“If you ask, he’ll show you,” Alessandro said. “He doesn’t say to you, ‘Hey, I won a medal!'”

E-mail: [email protected]

Twitter: @NathanJAnsell

Related stories:

Federico Burdisso, junior from the Northwest, wins Olympic medal in the 200-meter butterfly

Swimming and diving: Northwestern looks forward to another season after successful race in 2020-21

Q&A: Andrea Filler, former NU softball student (Communication 15, SPS 16), to compete in Tokyo Olympics



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