Alex Zanardi
AP

Alex Zanardi airlifted to hospital after accident

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ROME (AP) — Alex Zanardi, the Italian race car champion who transitioned into a gold medalist Paralympian after losing both of his legs, was seriously injured in a handbike race on Friday.

Zanardi was transported by helicopter to Santa Maria alle Scotte hospital in Siena following a crash near the Tuscan town of Pienza during a national race for Paralympic athletes, police told The Associated Press.

A medical bulletin from the hospital said Zanardi underwent “a delicate neurosurgery operation” due to “severe cranial trauma.”

The surgery lasted about three hours, after which Zanardi was moved to the intensive care unit.

“His condition remains very serious,” the hospital said.

Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte tweeted: “You’ve never given up and with your extraordinary strength within you’ve overcome a thousand troubles. Forza Alex Zanardi. Don’t give up. All of Italy is with you.”

A Carabinieri police official in Montepulciano said the incident involved a “heavy vehicle.”

Local TV at the scene of the crash showed what was apparently Zanardi’s handbike lying on its side and missing two of its three wheels. A large truck pulling a semitrailer appeared parked on the road ahead.

“It happened on a slightly downhill straightaway just before a slight curve in the road,” national team coach Mario Valentini, who was following the race, told La Repubblica Florence. “Alex veered slightly into the oncoming lane just when a truck came. (The truck) tried to swerve but couldn’t avoid the crash.”

Prosecutors in Siena opened a criminal investigation into the incident and into the race’s organization.

Repubblica said Zanardi remained conscious until medical personnel arrived, and he was breathing by himself.

“Twenty minutes passed from the time of the accident to when the medical personnel arrived. It took some time to load him (into the ambulance). His wife helped. After the accident he was talking,” Valentini added in another interview with local media.

Valentini said he was not an eyewitness to the accident but arrived at the scene immediately afterward.

“It was a sunny day and everyone was happy. We were 20 kilometers (12 miles) from (the finish line) in Montalcino,” Valentini said. “The truck didn’t make a mistake. Alex made the mistake.”

The coach added that Zanardi’s helmet came off during the crash.

Racing great Mario Andretti tweeted, “I am so anxious and frightened about Alex Zanardi that I’m holding my breath. I am his fan. I am his friend. Please do what I’m doing and pray pray (for) this wonderful man.”

The 53-year-old Zanardi won two championships in CART In the United States before a brief move to Formula One. He returned to America and was racing in Germany in a CART event in 2001 when both of his legs were severed in a horrific accident the weekend after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. CART raced only because the series was already in Germany at the time of the attacks and could not return to the U.S.

During his recovery, Zanardi designed his own prosthetics — he jokes he made himself taller — and learned to walk again. He then turned his attention to hand cycling and developed into one of the most accomplished athletes in the world. He won four gold medals and two silvers at the 2012 and 2016 Paralympics, competed in the New York City Marathon and set an Ironman record.

His spirit, will, and determination gave the beloved Italian a larger than life persona. When he returned to the U.S. in 2019 to compete for BMW at the Rolex 24 of Daytona without his prosthetics, he was the most revered driver in a field that included F1 champion Fernando Alonso.

Drivers from around the world sought out Zanardi for photographs and were transfixed as he told elaborate, often embellished, tales of his adventures in the nearly two decades since many had seen him.

Noted for his infectious smile and fanciful storytelling, Zanardi proved time and again to be among the most determined people his peers have ever known.

“He has seven lives,” Valentini said. “Like cats.”

World Alpine Skiing Championships on for 2021 after request to delay rejected

Alpine Skiing World Championships
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GENEVA (AP) — A request by the organizers of next year’s skiing world championships in Italy to postpone the event by one year was rejected Thursday by the International Ski Federation.

FIS ruled that the event will go ahead from Feb. 9-21, 2021, in Cortina d’Ampezzo — the highlight of an Alpine season that faces challenges to find safe protocols for international travel and attending races in Europe, North America and China.

The Veneto region of northern Italy was hit hard by the coronavirus and the season-ending World Cup races in Cortina in mid-March were canceled. That week-long event was to be a test for the 2021 worlds.

“The last month of efforts to come to this solution demonstrates the strong collaborative spirit of the ski family and stakeholders.” FIS president Gian-Franco Kasper said.

Organizers in Italy have said they expect losses of about 30 million euros ($34 million) if the worlds are also canceled. They asked for a postponement to March 2022, which would be only weeks after the Beijing Olympics.

“But we will be ready in any case and we will show that these world championships can change the history of a region despite the current difficulties,” Alessandro Benetton, president of the Cortina organizing committee, said in a statement.

Italian racer Sofia Goggia, the 2018 Olympic downhill champion, said she was “happy for Cortina because it will host the first major international event after the coronavirus epidemic.”

Cortina, which hosted the 1956 Olympics, will co-host the 2026 Winter Games with Milan and use the worlds as a showcase for the resort.

The women’s World Cup downhill on the Olympia delle Tofane course each January is one of the most scenic in the sport with a signature jump between tall outcrops of jagged rock.

The Dolomites venue was awarded the 2021 worlds by FIS after missing out as a candidate four straight times from 2013-19.

MORE: Anna Veith retires, leaves Austrian Alpine skiing in unfamiliar territory

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Russia track and field athlete clearance frozen due to unpaid fine

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MONACO (AP) — The program allowing Russian track athletes to compete internationally will be frozen because the country’s federation failed to pay a fine on time, World Athletics said Thursday.

The Russian track federation, known as RusAF, owes a $5 million fine and another $1.31 million in costs for various doping-related work and legal wrangles. World Athletics said RusAF missed Wednesday’s deadline to pay.

World Athletics said it would freeze the work of the Doping Review Board, which vets Russian athletes who want the “authorized neutral athlete” status that allows them to compete internationally, and its taskforce monitoring RusAF’s anti-doping reforms.

World Athletics said both bodies will be “put on hold” until its council meets to discuss the situation at the end of July.

“RusAF is letting its athletes down badly,” World Athletics president Sebastian Coe said in a statement. “We have done as much as we can to expedite our ANA process and support RusAF with its reinstatement plan, but seemingly to no avail.”

RusAF president Yevgeny Yurchenko earlier told the Tass state news agency that his federation’s finances were damaged by the coronavirus pandemic and that it had asked for more time to pay.

World Athletics’ statement didn’t directly address that issue, but said Russia hadn’t indicated when it would pay.

Russia was fined $10 million by World Athletics in March, with $5 million suspended for two years, after the federation admitted to breaking anti-doping rules and obstructing an investigation.

The Athletics Integrity Unit said fake documents were used under the previous management to give an athlete an alibi for missing a doping test.

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