Donato Sabia (in blue) was the 800m European champion in 1984. (File Photo/AP)
Former middle-distance runner Donato Sabia has died from Covid-19 at the age of 56, the Italian Olympic Committee (Coni) has announced. Sabia, who finished fifth in the 1984 Olympics and seventh in the 1988 Olympics, is the first Olympic finalist in the world to die from the virus, according to the Italian Olympic body.
Coni said in a statement that Sabia, who twice reached the Olympic finals and won the gold medal in the 800m event at the European Indoor Championships in 1984, had been in the intensive care unit of the San Carlo hospital on Potenza, in the southern Italian region of Basilicata, for a few days.
Sabia's personal best of 1:43.88 in Florence on 13 June 1984 remains the Italian U23 record and he is still third on the Italian all-time list over two laps of the track.
World Athletics is deeply saddened to hear that Italy's 1984 European indoor 800m champion Donato Sabia has died aged 58 after contracting the coronavirus. https://t.co/JCeRTx2n6j
— World Athletics (@WorldAthletics) April 8, 2020
Italian Athletics Federation (FIDAL) President Alfio Giomi said in an official statement: “It’s a tragedy within a tragedy. Donato was a person who you couldn’t not love.”
The President of the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) Giovanni Malagò was also strongly affected by Sabia's death: “We are mourning the loss of a great actor of our world, a champion on and off tracks. In the last days I got to learn about his health condition... He was a phenomenon, not only because of his two Olympic finals which makes him unforgettable, but also because of all the titles he won, including the European one in Gothenburg in 1984."
IAAF President Sebastian Coe, who competed against Sabia at Los Angeles 1984, paid tribute to the athlete with the words: "A great runner taken from the athletics family too soon. My thoughts are with his family and with Italian athletics".