On 15 August 1989 Giorgio Lamberti wins the 200 freestyle at the European Championships in Bonn with a time of 1: 46.69: it is a historic day for swimming, not only for the medal but above all because Lamberti has improved, the first man in Italian history , a world record in the long course. Previously, only Novella Calligaris had succeeded in the enterprise. After him only Federica Pellegrini (9 times) and Benedetta Pilato have gone so far, but no other man has written his name in the register of world records for swimming pools.
That Lamberti record went down in history because it remained undefeated for almost ten years – until the advent of the Australians Hackett and Thorpe – and it took almost thirty-three for an Italian man to be able to score the fastest time ever in a another race. To give an idea, in the National team that is currently participating in the Budapest World Cup there are Michele Lamberti, son of Giorgio and born in 2000, and Benedetta Pilato, who yesterday won the 100 breaststroke and who is from 2005.
Thomas Ceccon was born on January 27, 2001, the man who dispelled the Italian taboo of world records by winning the 100 World Championship backstrokes with a time of 51.60, improving the limit that belonged to the American Murphy (yesterday second) with 51.85 . Ceccon succeeded where Fioravanti, Magnini and Paltrineri had failed, champions who have won the World Cup and the Olympics, but who have only touched the records.
In a final of the 100 backstroke never so fast – three went under 52 seconds – Ceccon also became the first Italian gold at the World Championships in the specialty that is swimming belly up, after the previous day Nicolò Martinenghi had won the first gold for Italy in the frog.
A historic day
«This medal and this record are dedicated only to me. I thank my staff and my family, but the dedication is just for me, because I deserve it ». With these words and gold around his neck, Thomas Ceccon exposed his thoughts to Rai, after listening to Mameli’s anthem on the top step of the podium in Budapest 2022.
The words come out fluid and fast from his mouth, beyond the order of his thoughts. Ceccon is stunned like a boxer in the tenth round. First he says: «In the past it was unthinkable, I have yet to realize what I did», and then «in training we had tried a split [un esercizio che spezzetta la gara in due parti con una pausa minima tra le due metà, nda] and I knew I was worth 51.6 / 51.7 “. Perhaps his expression of surprise as soon as he touches the finish plate is the perfect definition of his mood at the sight of the word World Record: in the midst of so many good performances and a very high general level, Ceccon is for now the only one to have improved a world record in the whole World Championship.
It doesn’t matter that the gold and silver of Tokyo 2020 were missing from the 100 backstroke, the Russians Rylov and Kolesnikov excluded for well-known political reasons: presumably, no one else would have swum that time. It must be said, however, that Ceccon’s performance did not come out of the cylinder of a magician: in the heats and especially in the semifinals of the previous day he had slowed down considerably in the last 20 meters, suggesting the possibility of improving compared to the 52.12 obtained, which was already Italian record. “I’m not saying anything out of luck, but I still have some,” he said after qualifying for the final with the second overall time, and his feelings were true.
The final followed what could have been expected, with Murphy immediately on the attack – 12 cents clear of Ceccon at the 50m turn – and the strongest Italian in the final progression, when he increased the frequency of the stroke and the power of the legs, to withstand the fatigue of the last ten meters. With a perfect finish in the draw, Ceccon wrote his name in the history of swimming, improving a record that stood since the Rio 2016 final.
“We have always taken his being a little crazy as a strength, supporting his character and his aptitudes. Even today, approaching the race with the right attitude, light but aware, is a factor that makes the difference in his performance ». So spoke after the gold in Budapest Alberto Burlina, the coach who has always followed Ceccon. Thomas calls him “teacher”, as is done with the teachers of the swimming school. They train at the Federal Center of Verona, the swimming pool that for years was the home of Federica Pellegrini, where they moved together with Thomas da Schio’s family, precisely to focus everything on his preparation.
It was not an easy choice, because in the past Thomas Ceccon was spoken of in an ambiguous way. He has always been recognized as one of the greatest talents that Italian swimming has ever had, capable of swimming times of world value in three styles – backstroke, butterfly and freestyle – and of winning twenty medals in international youth events. However, it was said that he was a bit uncontrollable, so much so that he himself acknowledges, in an interview with Gazzetta dello Sport, of “having sometimes exaggerated, in the national team with the jokes and delays, I have suffered many reproaches”. The maturity, however, had already arrived last year, when in Tokyo he had contributed to the two medals in the relay, silver in the 4 × 100 style and bronze in the mixed 4 × 100, with decisive internal fractions. At the Japanese Olympics, in the 100 backstroke he finished in fourth place, a bitter placement, especially because he could see in his arms an already shorter time than that recorded there. It was therefore time to confirm with facts what could be imagined for him, that a World gold had already displayed it before the event began: “Now I feel I am in my place”.
Thomas Ceccon is therefore the standard bearer of the generational change that is underway in the Italian swimming team. In the first major event that Italy is facing without Federica Pellegrini, the Azzurri have already won three golds, the same number of triumphs obtained in 2019. In Gwangju it was Pellegrini (1988), Paltrineiri (1994) and Quadarella (1998). win, in Budapest are Ceccon (2001), Pilato (2005) and Martinenghi (1999): a clear trend towards rejuvenation, which bodes well for the future.
The importance of having an element like Ceccon in the team also extends to the relay race: his backstroke fraction is crucial for a mixed 4 × 100 that aims for the podium as a minimum goal, and he has already been a solid participant even in the bronze obtained in the first day of competitions in 4 × 100 freestyle, which just missed the silver due to an uninspiring first fraction by Alessandro Miressi. It is precisely in freestyle that his coach sees the greatest potential for improvement, which at this point and given the results he is obtaining (in Budapest in the 50 butterfly he finished fifth and has improved the Italian record twice) are to be discovered.
Giorgio Lamberti, who defined an era of Italian swimming, was 20 at the time of the Bonn record; Thomas Ceccon turned 21 in January and seems to have everything to define another one. In the hype of the post-race interview, one lucid thing was able to say it: “The main goal is Paris 2024”.