In Fukuoka to collect medals. But she raises the alarm for the relays: "she will be tough"
If you don't trust us, trust a Piedmontese coach we ran into last year on the bends of the Col du Granon while waiting for the stage that turned the Tour de France upside down: “I've been going to the Italian Youth Swimming Championships since the early 1990s. Strong one like Thomas Cecon I've never seen him, not even Filippo Magnini, not even Federica Pellegrini”. Or trust Massimiliano Rosolino: “Ceccon is the most eclectic talent Italy has ever had in the tank”. By Emiliano Brembilla: “He has extraordinary qualities”. By Walter Bolognani, for 18 years technical manager of the Italian national youth teams: “I've never seen someone like this. Sometimes everyone abuses the word 'talent', but here we are really dealing with something different”. Di Gregorio Paltrinieri: “he IS a crazy, eclectic, aquatic talent”. Or Alberto Burlina, his lifelong coach, the person who knows him better than anyone else in swimming, who manages to give meaning to every expression he makes: "he is a prime number". Condemned not so much to loneliness as to being special.
For years the story of Thomas Ceccon was one of extraordinary abilities and ordinary weaknesses. The chronicles tell of delays in training, youth medals within reach and lost for an approach to the race that was too bland, even once he was separated from his roommate, Federico Burdisso, because together they were impossible to manage. The veterans of the national team targeted him, and the more he withdrew into himself the more they persisted with reprehensible bullying. There isn't an exact day in which Thomas Ceccon got up in the morning and decided to settle down: in his words, "it was a phase". This is why today he repeats that obsession counts more than talent. But those who are closest to him can indicate the beginning of maturation in an episode that took place at the Tokyo Olympics. In just under half an hour she should have swum the semifinal of the 100m backstroke and the final of the 4x100m freestyle, in which Italy started with medal ambitions. Everyone, coaches and companions, suggested that he retire from the individual race so as not to waste precious energy for the relay. But he felt good, his body was born to be in the water, so he made his decision and took responsibility for it. He finished fifth in the 100m backstroke, qualifying for the final with a time of 52''78, and in the relay leg he contributed to Italy's silver medal by swimming 47''45s. There Thomas Ceccon began to grow up.
At the Sette Colli Trophy at the end of June, in Rome, we met a still different guy. In the mixed area, he did not spare his doubts on the state of the Italian national team on the eve of the long course World Cup in Fukuoka and in particular on the men's relays, which last season, at the World Cup in Budapest, earned Italy a gold (4x100m medley) and a bronze (4x100m freestyle). “I'm worried,” he said, “we're not in good shape. Maybe I'm a little naughty, but unfortunately that's the way it is. It's true that we always come in as underdogs and we're a little better at the start than when we're stationary, but it's tough, much tougher than last year. I don't want to name names and I'm only basing myself on the times taken this year. Other nations are far superior to us, so right now we have to roll up our sleeves. I hope I have given some signals because there is work to be done”. Then to Rai he reiterated: "Before checking, you should have done your homework". Words that some comrades didn't like and which surprised, in part, even Alberto Burlina: “Now that he's exhibiting himself like this, it's new for me too. He is manifesting himself for what he actually is, a champion in work and mentality. Then he said objective things in my opinion, he made an observation of the obvious to stimulate the environment, but when you are world champion and record holder, whatever you say is emphasized and underlined”. He words as a leader.
“It's not that everyone who expresses their opinions will become leaders,” however Burlina, nicknamed the Maestro, who won the coach of the year award for 2022, holds back. “You also have to deserve it. But it is clear that if you are part of many relays, and you are decisive for all these relays, then you are a person who, willy-nilly, could become a leader. Even if that's not what we're thinking about right now." In Fukuoka the student is entered in three competitions: 100 backstroke, 50 backstroke and 50 dolphin. In addition we will see him in almost all the relays. Considering the form already shown a month ago in Rome, he is the blue with the most chances to make the airport metal detector go off before the return flight. He has one last gift, Thomas Ceccon: as a scholar and connoisseur of swimming that he is, he is capable of predicting almost to the hundredth of a second the time he will achieve in a major event. Last year, before leaving for the World Championships in Budapest, he did a simulation of the 100m backstroke and almost jokingly predicted 51''6 with Alberto Burlina. In Hungary he conquered the gold medal in exactly 51''60, a new world record. After the semifinal, completed in 52''12, he confided to journalists that he had spared himself in the last few metres. Real. At the last Sette Colli he prophesied: “The gold in Japan will be won in 52''1”. Was he talking about himself?