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The tough comeback of innovator Fabio Basile
3 Jun 2019 20:50
Fabio Basile of Italy shocked the world when, as a relative unknown, he won the U66kg gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Was it a fluke, many people wondered, or would he go on to become a great champion, winning many titles along the way? Judo fans eagerly awaited his next competition of the showman who popularised judo.
After the Olympics, he took a few months' break. That’s certainly understandable. After doing such a good job in Rio, he deserved some time off to enjoy his success and new celebrity status. He came back in December that year to compete in the 2016 Tokyo Grand Slam but it was a let-down. Basile lost in his first match, to Norihito Isoda and, with that, he was out of the competition. The golden back-patch puts more expectations to a champion but wasn't able yet to equal his fantastic showing at the 2016 Rio Olympics winning four of the five matches by ippon. Since then Fabio was the example for many kids and boosted Italian judo with kids trying his moves, like he did himself.
It took until August 2017 before he would compete again and it was at the 2017 Budapest World Championships that he chose to make his “comeback”. He had not been competing in any IJF World Tour events leading up to the World’s. He showed all he got and lost in the second round, to An Baul of South Korea, whom he had beaten in the final of the 2016 Rio Olympics in one of the best matches of the World Championships, but Fabio was not ready yet.
In his category U60kg he made great youth results, but nobody but Fabio himself thought he could be Olympic Champion. End of 2014 he switched to U66kg with 19 months to try to qualify and he did an amazing job and was convinced of winning the Olympic title and so he did. In fact he made a fast next step up and didn't even fight one Olympic cyle in U66kg. He stepped up to U73kg.
In October, Basile moved up a weight to U73kg and competed in the 2017 Abu Dhabi Grand Slam where he made it to a fifth place in his new category... in a Grand Slam. He would then take another long break until February the next year, when he took part in the 2018 Paris Grand Slam but struggled with another Mongolian fighter, the talented Tsogtbaatar Tsend-Ochir, in his first match who in fact had a similar stormy career as Fabio with two step ups, but not an Olympic title.
Fabio improved his March in March, at the 2017 Ekaterinburg Grand Slam, where he made it all the way to the semi-final. There, he lost to Ferdinand Karapetian of Armenia. No gold but this was his best showing to date, but we all know that each opponent will need all the skills he's got to stop Basile in his march to become successful U73kg. Yes, we know he is a showman (and we love it), perhaps out of the scope of Japanese celebrations, but we also love Hashimoto and he is also a showman. Judo needs people like Hashimoto, like Basile, like Heydarov and Ono. We all need heroes in each category.
The 2018 European Championships wasn't a great experience for Basile and he lost in his second bout against Bilal Ciloglu of Turkey, not an easy opponent for him, new kid on the block as he lost to him at the 2018 Tarragona Mediterranean Games, but for the long term Basile will have his impact. It's an art to shine at the right time.
Almost two years after he became Olympic champion. Although he had come close, Basile tries to get traction in his new category and hadn't been in a final until July 2018. In such competitive category U73kg it is extremely hard to find the right pathway when people expect the most. Remember Fabio was no where in June 2015 for the Games, he was fighting at European Cup level. U73kg he already was on the podium in Paris.
At the 2018 Grand Prix in Zagreb that changed when he got to his first final U73kg. He lost to rising star, Akil Gjakova of Kosovo but also he suffered to earn a place after his Paris win, same situation. Getting to the final was a significant breakthrough but any psychological boost he might have gotten from that didn’t seem to help him in the 2018 Baku World Championships just two months later. There he lost his first fight, to Nuno Saraiva of Portugal. Basile's year was over and it was illustrative how tough it is to get back with a golden backpatch. Insiders know how dedicated he is, how hard he trains, despite the subjective things we see outside judo being a famous Italian athlete, even outside judo, Fabio is way beyond that.
2019 getting traction
He started 2019’s contest season in February at the 2019 Paris Grand Slam where he made it to the quarter-finals, losing to Hidayat Heydarov of Azerbaijan but he fought back to bronze, which was a creditable achievement and celebrated the medal with the fans, he sure knows how to do that. In March, he did well to get to the final of the 2019 Ekaterinburg Grand Slam, losing in the final to Tommy Macias of Sweden. 2019 proved that Fabio is getting the pace he will need to defend his back patch.
Although you can’t really say he’s returned to form that we saw in Rio but it will be interesting to see how well he does in the 2019 Tokyo World Championships. He's always someone to look out for but he's not yet the top prospect there, that honour goes to Ono, An, Heydarov, Orujov and Shavdatuashvili. Basile is in the subtop with Macias, Gjakova and Tsend-Ochir, in a far better situation then in June 2015.
Many players who take long periods of time off before resuming competition find it hard to get back into top competition form. Basile's case naturally makes you wonder how the great Teddy Riner of France will do in the 2019 Tokyo Worlds (assuming he will be competing). Although Riner has been attending training camps and is obviously training hard, he has been away from competition since November 2017, but looks a lot sharper since a year ago. Some athletes just know when they need to peak, ask it to Tadahiro Nomura, perhaps Fabio Basile in August 2020, but the road is bumpy.
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