Skater's historic third medal causes hysteria in Italy

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The Independent Online

The Italian speedskater, Enrico Fabris, urged calm yesterday after winning a gold medal at the 1500 metres here and becoming the only Italian male athlete ever to have won three medals at one Games. As congratulations poured in from all over the country, including Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Fabris tried to keep the fuss to a minimum.

"I am not a hero, I want to live the life I lived before," he said in a packed news conference amid cheers from Italian reporters.

After winning gold in the team pursuit and bronze in the 5,000 earlier in the Games, he surpassed the skier Alberto Tomba and bobsledder Eugenio Monti who won two medals in one Olympics. Seconds after winning gold, Fabris, still in the rink, was given a telephone. "It was Berlusconi," he said. "He told me I am a young boy and that the best is yet to come. He said, 'Enrico, you are part of Italian sports history now'".

His success has contributed greatly to larger numbers of Italians flocking to the Oval Lingotto, initially a Dutch-dominated arena, as well as to greater television ratings for the sport.

Fabris said he was honoured to be in the same company as Tomba and Monti. "I have more medals than Tomba and Monti in one Olympics. It is a great honour to be on the same level as such truly great athletes," the 24-year-old said.

Rhona Martin will not be winning any medals this year, having departed the Olympic scene, but Britain's curlers are still in with a chance of a gong thanks to David Murdoch's team, who will meet Finland in today's semi-finals.

As last-ranked among the qualifiers, Murdoch and his team - Ewan MacDonald, Euan Byers, Warwick Smith and alternate Craig Watson - are facing the team who finished top, but despite losing 5-2 to the Finns in their final round-robin match they can afford to be confident about taking on a side they have beaten in the past. Although the Finnish skip, Markku Uusipaavalniemi, has had five top-five finishes at the World Championships, Murdoch's own record is impressive - he won silver at last year's World Championships and took European Championship gold and bronze respectively in 2003 and 2005.

Murdoch's men came into the tournament ranked third. They justified that status by earning qualification with six wins in their first seven matches before losing their last two to the Finns and the United States, who contest the other semi-final against Canada.

Murdoch's 30-year-old vice-skip Ewan MacDonald, whose wife Fiona was in Martin's victorious team of 2002, is the most successful curler of the tournament so far.

Britain's two-man bobsleigh pair of Nicola Minichiello and Jackie Davies started yesterday's two final runs in sixth place after finishing almost two tenths of a second faster than anyone else in Monday's second run. But the world silver medallists could manage only ninth place, in 3min 52.16sec, after a poor opening display dropped them to eighth.