“When you really love something, you can be a better person”
November 2013 – The day before the pommel horse final at the world championships in Antwerp, Alberto Busnari celebrated his 35th birthday. But he was also celebrating 30 years as a gymnast. “Gymnastics is my world, it’s my life,” the engaging Italian tells us.
Alberto is a truly dedicated gymnast. He has competed in no less than four consecutive Olympic Games, and although he now specialises on pommel horse, he used to do the all-around. “I made the all-around final at the 2000 Sydney Olympics,” he recalls, “and okay, I finished 35th, but I was so happy to be in the final. I was really proud!”
Alberto is a member of Centro Sportivo Aeronautica Militare – the sports club of the Italian Air Force, which he joined in 2004. “I have so much gratitude for them,” he says, “because they give us the opportunity to continue our gymnastics training – it’s my job.” Whilst he may not be flying fighter jets, he can continue flying high in the gym with no financial worries.
He also helps out with coaching duties for the younger gymnasts, and in the evenings he often meets up with friends to teach them acrobatic skills – just for fun. “Sometimes I’m a gymnast, sometimes a coach, sometimes just a regular guy hanging out with my mates. I also like to play tennis or go swimming. I can only rest for two or three days before I need to do something active. It’s like a drug – a good drug, of course!”
In 2009 he decided to concentrate on pommel horse, parallel bars and high bar. “We have to adapt our training every four years,” he explains, “and in the last four years, you need a really high score to make finals. If you are a kind of superman like Uchimura you can keep doing all six events, but otherwise you need to focus on your strengths. For me this is pommel horse. I’m not stupid, I know I only have one chance to be in the finals – on pommel horse.”
As well as optimising the efficiency of his training as he got older, there was another reason why Alberto decided to focus on fewer events. “I have a big problem with my knees. They are not in line, in fact I was born with them out of alignment and they sometimes dislocate. I have always known that my legs were not so good. In 1995 I had an operation on each knee, and after tearing the muscles of my left leg twice – in 1997 and again in 2006 – I changed my gymnastics so it involved less jumping and running”.
Although he competed on his three key events at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, it is on the pommel horse where he excels. He even has an element named after him: a handstand movement that travels along the horse. Very few gymnasts have the accolade of a move named after them, but these days, many gymnasts aspire to perform the Busnari in their routines.
“After the Europeans earlier this year, I was thinking of changing my routine,” he tells us. “I said to myself, okay, so I can do a handstand element, why not do more? At first, everybody said ‘you are crazy, it’s impossible’ but I tried, and day by day, it began to take shape.”
By Antwerp, he was able to perform his signature move not just once or twice, but three times in succession. The complexity of the routine meant he was the highest scorer on pommel horse in qualifications. Things were looking good for a medal in finals for the persistent Italian, hoping to make up for the disappointment of placing fourth at the European championships a few months earlier, and fourth at the 2012 Olympic Games.
But it was not to be – in a cruel twist of fate, he placed fourth – again. “So many times I’ve been fourth,” he says ruefully. “I think I’ll send a letter to the Guinness Book of Records, for the most fourth place finishes!”
Despite this, he graciously congratulated the medallists, showing true sportsmanship. “The important thing to know is that gymnastics is a way of life. You learn that when you really love something, you can be a better person.”