The road to recovery from a serious ankle injury on the eve of the 2016 Olympic Games was an arduous and painstaking one for Gianmarco Tamberi but the popular and charismatic Italian celebrated his first major title in nearly three years at the Glasgow 2019 European Athletics Indoor Championships.
Tamberi needed two operations to fix his left ankle which grimly buckled while attempting 2.41m in the Monaco Diamond League in July 2016 when he defeated most of his leading rivals. He was forced to miss the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro where he would have surely challenged for the title and despite making a comeback the following summer, Tamberi was largely bereft of his best form across the next two seasons.
But his fortunes began to change and a European leading 2.32m clearance in the build-up to Glasgow 2019 at the Italian Indoor Championships indicated that Tamberi would be a factor on the big stage again. This did not stop the Italian from harbouring some doubts ahead of the championships although those worries were thankfully unconnected to the state of his take-off ankle.
"I was thinking that in my life I did eleven international competitions and the only two times I did not make the final was in London, so I was scared of Great Britain,” said Tamberi after the final, recalling his unsuccessful campaigns at both the 2012 Olympic Games when he was only 20 and at the 2017 World Championships, the latter his first major competition since the ankle break.
"I love the London [Olympic] Stadium, and the people. But in the UK, I had never made the final. I will never forget Glasgow in my life. It is where I wrote my comeback. But I never thought I wouldn't come back. My mind was always sure," he added resolutely.
The path to Glasgow was far from smooth for Tamberi but he enjoyed an unexpectedly comfortable passage to the title. European champion Mateusz Przybylko from Germany exited at a modest height of 2.22m and Belarus’ European silver medallist Maksim Nedasekau, who shunted Tamberi off the podium at the 2018 European Championships, didn’t even progress through qualifying.
Sporting his trademark half-shave look which was supplemented by the addition of the Italian tricolour which was painted onto his left shoulder, Tamberi led proceedings with four successive first-time clearances at 2.18m, 2.22m, 2.26m and then crucially at 2.29m. In a bid to prise the title away from Tamberi, Greece’s Konstadinos Baniotis and Ukraine’s 2.40m performer Andriy Protsenko both passed their remaining attempts and joined Tamberi at the next height of 2.32m.
But Tamberi put the title further out of the reach of his challengers by clearing that height convincingly on his second attempt. Baniotis and Protsenko both failed their remaining two attempts which meant the Italian ended up winning the title by two clear heights.
One of the most theatrical and charismatic performers in global athletics, Tamberi endeared himself to Emirates Arena faithful with his sartorial choice as he emerged from the sidelines and onto the in-field sporting a tartan kilt. He continued to engage with the crowd by conducting them to rhythmically clap his jumps - with the notable exception of his successful second time clearance at 2.32m when he asked for silence - all the way through to close albeit unsuccessful attempts at 2.34m and 2.36m.
"Over the last two years there have been many times when I have cried because of my failure and being frustrated because I wanted it so much," said Tamberi. "The people around me wanted to support me but I never wanted them to say 'You are doing good, you are okay jumping 2.20m'. I did not want to be satisfied with 2.20m," said Tamberi.
"I was happy that something was coming and I now I can smile again."