When he was just six years old, Tommaso D’Orsogna told his aunt Tina, as she collected him from swimming lessons, “I’m going to go to the Olympics one day, you know.” He was right. Now 21, the former Christchurch Grammar student will soon be winging to London, part of the 100m freestyle relay.
This highly motivated, articulate young man, now based at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra, chats with The Starfish during a fleeting visit back to WA.
Tommaso, what was your reaction when you found out you’re in the Olympic team?
A bit mixed, to be honest. I’d not performed as well as I’d hoped in another event I was going for, the 200 m freestyle. I was disappointed about that. But this made me determined to get into the 4 by 100. I swam my best time – 48.64 – and qualified. We have the strongest team in the world in this event.
So you’ll have to compete with your team-mates to get in the final four?
That’s right; there are six of us going over, and it’s crazy, we’re all swimming at speeds fast enough to qualify us to represent any other country in the world, in the individual swim. But of course, only four of us will make it into the final.
When did you first start swimming?
I think I was a few months old when I first went into a pool. I was always the first one in and the last one out.
Mother Ann: When he was quite small his coach said to me, “I just need him to stay out of the water for a few seconds while I’m talking.” I had to sit him down and tell him to focus and listen to the coach more. He said, “Mum, I just love the water, I’m having fun.”
At what point did you realize swimming was more than a hobby?
By ten, I’d made up my mind that I wanted to be a swimmer. I’d been inspired by the Sydney Olympics the previous year. Then, I won my first State medal, a bronze. A couple of years later, in year 8, I won my first State gold. When I was 13, I won my first National, a bronze for the 100m backstroke. That was pretty exciting. It’s all gone on from there.
Who are your heroes?
Michael Klim, Adam Lucas, and Michael Phelps.
Ann: We were there for him, offering our support, but we never pushed him. His father would say, “If you want to go to training, you set your alarm and wake me up.” It was always up to Tommaso.
What did you do after leaving school?
I did a year at UWA, studying anatomical science. Then I was offered a scholarship to the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra at the end of 2008.
What are you thinking about when you’re in the water all that time? Is it ever boring?
No. I know people think you’re just staring at the black line, but there’s a lot to think about. What you’re doing technically, what’s coming up next, what you need to improve on. You might start singing for a few laps! I’m never bored.
Ann: He’s always had a life outside of swimming too. He’s studying biochemical science at ANU, and he loves his guitar.
What have you missed out on thanks to your dedication to swimming?
A lot of 21sts! All last year I was training in Canberra when my friends were celebrating and having lots of parties. So I’ve missed out on a lot of social things. But I really don’t see it as a sacrifice. I’ve benefited so much from swimming. I’ve been to so many countries, met incredible people, had unique opportunities.
Are you planning to go for the 2016 Olympics?
Definitely. I’ll be 25 then; a good age.
What will you do after swimming?
I’m going to be a doctor. My interests lie in the neurological field, but it’s too early to tell. I just know that I want to be a doctor.
What do you miss most about life back here?
My friends, the beach, and mum’s yummy lasagna.
Ann: Sometimes I nip over to Canberra and cook for him!
T: Mum and dad and my sisters, Amelia and Gabby, have all been great supporters and have made sacrifices to help me achieve my goals. They even revolve their holidays around my swimming. I’m so lucky to have such a great family.
For Ann’s Yummy Gluten-Free Lasagne recipe click our Yum button.
Footnote: Tommaso is named after his grandfather, Tom D’Orsogna, 93, who founded the well-known smallgoods company, DORSOGNA Ltd, in 1949. When Tom was Tommaso’s age, during World War Two, he was held in Fremantle Prison and several internment camps, just for being Italian. Tom has been known to weep with pride, seeing his beloved grandson swimming for Australia.