Italy quick to embrace Fabris in show of national delirium

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The Independent Online

If there was any doubt in Enrico Fabris' mind about his new-found status within Italian sport, it was expunged yesterday morning when he woke up to a tidal wave of praise heading in his direction.

Italy, which tends not to get excited about sport unless it involves kicking a ball or turning pedals, has enveloped the lanky speed skater who collected his second gold medal of these Games on Tuesday evening in a delirious embrace.

After defeating Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick, the two Americans who were supposed to have reduced the 1500-metres event to a personal feud, Fabris has been proclaimed "The Man of the Games" by the national sporting paper Gazzetta dello Sport.

The man who received a telephone call of congratulations from the Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, before he had even left the ice featured on the front page, page 2, page 3 and page 5. The only reason he did not make page 4 was because it was taken over by a full-page advertisement. Italy is now so smitten with the sport of Pattinaggio di velocita that the newspapers even had a graphic showing the circumference of Fabris' thigh - 60 centimetres.

The 24-year-old, who was part of the group which won the team pursuit event last week, has now become Italy's most successful Olympian at a single Games, taking over from Alberto Tomba, who won two events at the Calgary Olympics in 1988, by dint of having won an additional bronze in the 5,000m. And that record might be improved still further after Friday's final event, the 10,000m.

The feud between Davis and Hedrick, meanwhile, is still thriving. At the post-race press conference, Hedrick's brief initial comment about the man who had beaten him to the silver spoke volumes: "I don't know much about him. Only that he lives in Chicago." But Hedrick was prompted to criticise Davis for not taking part in the team pursuit event because he wanted to concentrate on the 1,000m individual event, and not even bothering to tell him of that decision. "We passed an opportunity to win a medal," Hedrick added.

Davis, meanwhile, commented: "It would have been nice if he had shook my hand after I won the 1,000m, like I had hugged him after he won the 5,000m."

While the United States team takes in the disappointment of being denied a further gold in the 1500m, the attention is now focusing on today's concluding women's figure skating event, the free programme, where Sasha Cohen - the 21-year-old from Laguna Niguel, California - carries a lead of just under one point over Russia's silver medallist from the 2002 Games, Irina Slutskaya.

Less than three years ago Slutskaya learned that her frequent fevers and fatigue were caused by a serious heart disease called vasculitis, which causes an inflammation of the blood vessels. After being forced to give up the sport while she recovered, she has returned as many people's sentimental favourite, especially in the absence of Michelle Kwan, who had to abandon her third attempt to win an Olympic gold because of injury.

Sweden, the world and European champions, moved to within one match of completing a sweep in women's curling as they defeated Norway 5-4 in their semi-final yesterday, with Switzerland moving past the Canadian team whose last-gasp victory put an end to the involvement of Rhona Martin's defending champions on Monday night.

Anja Pärson won a coveted Olympic gold medal at last with victory in the women's slalom. The overall World Cup champion, disappointed with two bronze medals in previous races, held on to her first-leg lead to beat the Austrian Nicole Hosp by 0.29sec.

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