MEET THE CHAMPIONS: FABIO BASILE
The series of Meet the Champions continues with Italian superstar, Fabio Basile and his extreme journey from life threatening illness, overcoming being bullied to delivering Italy’s 200th Olympic gold. From the Olympic rostrum, Basile continued to excel last weekend when he claimed silver at a hugely popular celebrity tv dance show, called, Ballando con le Stelle.
FIRST VICTORY: WIN THE BATTLE TO LIVE
Fabio Basile was born in Rivoli in 1994. His birth town is a province of Turin and is located about 14km west of Turin. Basile faced numerous obstacles along his journey, the first when aged three, he suffered a life-threatening chest infection when he contracted pneumonia. The 40 days he spent in hospital were crucial; literally every minute counted. Upon his return home, he made a full recovery and four years later he took up judo. It was the Sydney Summer Games that got Basile interested and soon after the show was over, he ran to the local gym asking if they had judo lessons. Sydney 2000 did not merely attract Basile to judo, it identified immediately his goal… Olympic Gold.
“When I was in school I had a problem with bigger kids, I used to get bullied and Judo gave me self-confidence and trust in myself to stand up for myself. Judo has never been a hobby, since day one. Judo gave me a reason to live not simply a reason to be better at school.”
Although, Basile struggled with bullying at school, he explained that he wasn’t exactly an angel himself. At school, he was always seen more like a wayward boy and he would often return home with warning notes in his school book. Basile also practiced football and skateboarding at the time. Why Judo?
“Fight. Being alone on the mat and fighting against another opponent.”
Basile had his first judo tournament two months after he started, where he lost. This was rather a wakeup call for him and after his initial loss he remained undefeated for 6 consecutive years. Basile realised after that first tournament, what it was like to lose and he set his mind to becoming a judo champion. In his words, nothing else mattered and there were no other reasons to live, just to become a Judo Champion.
When asked about his childhood heroes, Basile’s answers shaped smiles. His list started with Spiderman and Dragon Ball, continued with Girolamo Giovinazzo (Italian judoka, who won a bronze medal in the -66kg category at the Sydney Games) and Ilias Iliadis, whom he complemented by describing as a very nice person. Moving away from judo and onto his hobbies, Basile revealed he hasn’t got anything in particular he would call as his hobby. He loves judo, running in the mountains and spending time with his friends, which he emphasized by adding, there are only a few of them, yet he knows those are the friends he will always be able to count on. Basile joined the military by his own choice and highlighted his gratefulness to them for allowing him to do what he loves, judo. It is clear that judo means everything to the Italian judo hero; yet he continued to emphasize his gratitude toward his chosen sport:
“It is a question of education. Judo gave a me reason to get up every morning and fight for life. Now, that I accomplished my mission [to become an Olympic Champion], I am looking for new targets… Next one is to become World Champion as no other Italian judoka was ever able to win a World title…
The trick to be a champion is to suffer and train a lot. That special pain is my pleasure because this way I feel like I can go further than others and become like a machine not like a human.
I believe I succeed because I can go beyond human limits like I do and yet again, I am ready to put everything on hold, this time for the red back number.”
Basile’s international career began when he won the Bremen tournament in 2009. With his win in Bremen, he wrote himself into the history books by becoming the first ever Italian to win this particular tournament. He continued to impress by winning a bronze medal at the junior world championships in 2010. When asked about the weight of those achievements in comparison to now being Olympic Champion, he responded:
“It is part of my progress so it doesn’t mean those medals are nothing just because I won the Olympic gold. Some sensations you just don’t forget.”
THE SUDDEN SHOW
Rio 2016… Despite the fact that Basile set his mind on becoming Olympic Champion at the age early of seven, he set his sight on Rio during the latter stages of the qualification period of the 2016 Summer Games. Basile noticed a change in his being selected for tournaments, which was reducing day by day. This circumstance, as Basile explicates, made him put on his ‘bad boy’ cap.
“The fact that people didn’t believe in me just made me stronger and I wanted to prove a point that my time is now, not Tokyo 2020… My time is Rio 2016.”
Whilst discussing with Basile his use of negative feedback as inspiration, he stated that when everyone is satisfied with him, he tends to relax, sometimes too much; so, it is almost a need for him to have a little bit of a tension to enable him to stay on top of his game. His need for a challenge to deliver was demonstrated again when Basile needed to change weight category in 2015. Initially, he was going to stay in the -60kg category, however, it began to be a struggle to make weight and so he had to go up a weight division. With one year to go and a weight class up, Basile faced something that seemed impossible for the world, yet this aspect of the circumstances gave him the power to prove otherwise.
Following his decision to become 2016 Rio Olympic Champion the first hurdle involved him overtaking his home patriot, Elio Verde. This situation held no nightmares for Basile and at the final countdown in Astana, during the last qualification event, Basile defeated Verde. This was not a surprise at all for the Italians as Basile had already defeated Verde on two previous occasions at the National Championships. Also, not many would have known, but Basile carried out his Olympic qualification on literally one leg. Prior to departing to the Olympic Games, Basile voiced a statement which if translated, means, ‘I have been thrown in the midst of wolves, I came out as the leader of the pack’. He revealed that his statement was directed to both, the people who wanted him to fall and those who stood by his side believe in him and support him to make it to Rio…the rest was yet to come.
‘I AM GOING TO BE AN OLYMPIC CHAMPION’
“Yes, I did say that very often after qualifying. To me, the most difficult part was to qualify within 3 tournaments. I managed that. So, nothing can be more difficult than to qualify in such a short period of time. Three out of four tournaments I carried an injury on my ankle. To all, it seemed impossible to qualify with an injury but I made it, on literally one leg. After all this, I thought to myself, by the time the Olympic comes I will have two healthy legs, which means my least problem will be winning it.”
There is a confidence that radiates from Basile and yet again he underlined that he can thank nobody for it, but judo itself. Make no mistake; all the big speeches Basile made prior to the Olympics were backed up with huge amount of effort and determination, and it put zero pressure on the Italian judoka. The day before the tournament, he spent the afternoon training with his best friend, Antonio Esposito and by sunset he was on his own alone in his room listening to music. On the same day, the women’s head coach of the Italian team walked up to Basile and conversed with him saying: ‘I see in your eyes that you have something more for tomorrow.’ This gave enormous power to Basile as well, and he often likes to recall that moment. In the morning of the competition, Basile was ranked WRL#29. Whilst sipping his morning coffee, it was time to look at the draw for the first time.
“The draw was bad for me, which gave me more power. Anytime something looks impossible I go for it, with even stronger mind. Anger and motivation are my strength. I transfer anger into hunger for winning and I always try to make sure that it doesn’t eat him up before I need to deliver. To me, it is more difficult than fighting, but I learned to manage and to be able to transfer my overwhelming motions into something positive on the mat.”
On the day, Basile remembers himself being rather very calm and quiet all day. During his first contest, he overcome Sebastian Seidl of Germany by a left sided low seoi nage. During the second round, Basile faced Nijat Shikhalizada of Azerbaijan, against whom he had lost previously. A modified kata guruma scored for Basile and he was able to see himself through to the quarter finals, where he came up against Davaadorj Tumurkhuleg of Mongolia. Basile first scored Wazari by yet another kata guruma before sweeping Davaadorj’s feet away for Ippon.
“Davaadorj gave me lots of inspiration in the past but that day, there were no heroes, no idols… I wanted to be the idol.”
Adrian Gomboc of Slovenia was five minutes away of a guaranteed Olympic medal. Exact same for Fabio Basile. At the end of this semi-final contest we witnessed another winning performance from the Italian judo ace. This specific contest was certainly not a walk in the park, and his words neither attest to the fact.
“When facing Adrian, I had to be very strong psychologically. It was only during this contest when I had to proportion my attacks. I had to be strong in my head and calculate every step by using tactical work. Adrian uses loads of tactics and we know each other very well. He is very strong. I won against him with my mind not by my judo.”
Defeating Gomboc meant a guaranteed Olympic medal for Basile, which for him, personally, meant nothing. His duty on becoming Olympic Champion was yet to be completed. The final of the -66kg category of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games saw 2015 World Champion, An Ba-Ul of Korea facing the man on a mission, Fabio Basile. A stunning left sided tai otoshi saw An falling for silver. Basile described the moment of his victory as a brain explosion.
“For me, silver medal at the Olympic Games is like losing first round… During the final of the Olympic Games I had no plan apart of knowing I want to win. I fought against An before and I lost by a penalty. It was a matter of life or death. All the sweat and everything I have ever did for judo, all my anger, everything… everything I put into that contest.”
By now, the level of determination and strong mind-set of Basile is common knowledge. Whilst discoursing his habits and preparation for tournaments, Basile explained how he always visualises his victory on the tatami. Strangely, he says, he never visualised his win in Rio and whenever he voiced his statement on becoming Olympic Champion, he never pictured himself on the tatami. What he saw, however, were all the people who spoke bad about him holding their heads down quietly.
No one shows up at the Olympic Games to make up the numbers, however, there is always that single individual who, by the end of the day stands head held high with the shiny piece of hardware around their neck. The difference between being The Olympic Champion or being amongst one of the runners up is minor, yet crucial. In fact, on the day every tiny step, grip, counts which results often in a miracle. No wonder it is called the Greatest Show on Earth. What was that tiny, yet remarkable difference for Basile that day?
“It is hard to tell what exactly it was. Perhaps others were more relaxed because they were qualified a while ago and I arrived last minute, which for someone else might have been already satisfying but for me it was nothing but a step towards my goal, I wanted gold. Maybe it is to do as well with others not suffering as much as I believe I did, even just to qualify.”
Basile’s victory was the 200th Olympic gold won for Italy in history. The Italian judo hero returned home three days after his victory. Upon his return, Basile recalls the crowd at the airport being too much. The fact that he won the 200th medal for Italy in addition to his interview in Rio made his name known all across the country. Shortly after being back on boot-land, Basile departed for a holiday, where he remembers his new-found fame being rather disturbing. Basile admitted, that adjusting from being a member of the Italian Judo Team to becoming a celebrity wasn’t easy and caused him numerous sleepless nights. He reveals that the most difficult part is the paparazzi who, for a while, followed him all the time. It was not until after three months when he began to realise what he had achieved; and not a day goes by up to today that he doesn’t go to bed thinking, ‘Wow, I am the Olympic Champion, Boss of the World.’
Fabio Basile was participating at a hugely popular celebrity tv dance show called Ballando con le Stelle, where he progressed week in and week out with his dance partner, and professional Italian dancer, Anastasia Kuzmina. During the weekend past, the pair of them were announced as the second best of the tv dance show. Prior to his departure, Basile expressed his joy and admitted he will not only represent himself during the show, but will be delighted to be able to represent judo and to spread the word about our great sport. Now that the show ended, Basile will be focusing on writing another page in the history books by August, winning a World title. For his closing words, he commented:
“If it wasn’t for judo, I would either be doing another sport or more likely be doing bad things. I have a war in my head. If I put it on the judo mat that is good, but if I put it on the street, the outcome won’t be pleasing.”
Interview, Video, Pictures: Szandra Szogedi, Emanuele Feliciano
Writing: Szandra Szogedi & Sheldon Franco Rooks