Federico Burdisso has done it. The Northwestern swimmer earned the bronze medal in the men’s 200-meter butterfly for his native Italy at the Tokyo Olympics.
Burdisso swam a 1:55:14 in the preliminary heat on July 26, finishing third in his heat and qualifying him through to the semifinal round. In the semifinals on July 27, he swam a 1:55.11, again finishing third in his heat and fourth overall, sending him to the finals on Tuesday night.
The men’s 200-meter butterfly final itself was a race for second place. Hungarian Kristof Milak holds the world record of 1:50.73, and only Milak and Michael Phelps have broken even 1:52.00. As expected, Milak cruised to the win, touching in at 1:51.25, and for a while, it looked as if Burdisso could have finished second.
He reached the first wall in third place, behind Milak and Chad LeClos of South Africa. Off the second wall (the halfway point of the race), Burdisso was even with both Milak and LeClos. As Milak pulled away from the rest of the field, Burdisso reached the third wall in second place with LeClos and Japanese swimmer Honda Tomoru less than a second behind him. Honda finished strong as Burdisso’s strength slipped, and the Japanese swimmer managed to touch in second (1:53.73). Burdisso held on just long enough and out-touched the other Hungarian — Tamas Kenderesi — to earn himself the bronze medal with a time of 1:54.45.
Burdisso is the only active Northwestern student competing at the Tokyo Olympics. He is the first Northwestern athlete to medal in any event since swimmer Matt Grevers won two golds and a silver at the 2012 London Olympics, and the first active-in-the-university Northwestern athlete to win a medal since Nancy Simons Peterson earned a silver medal in the 4x100 meter freestyle relay all the way back in 1956.
At Northwestern, Burdisso holds the 200-yard butterfly school record with a time of 1:41.92 and the 200-yard freestyle record with a 1:34.15. He has not swam in meets for Northwestern since the 2019-2020 season, as he stayed in Italy for COVID-19 restrictions and to train for the Olympics during the 2020-2021 season.