56-year-old Italian 800m runner Donato Sabia has died from COVID-19, the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) announced on Wednesday 8 April.
Sabia twice reached the Olympic 800m final, finishing fifth in Los Angeles 1984 and seventh four years later in Seoul. His greatest triumph was winning gold at the European Indoor Championships in 1984. The same year, the man who was nicknamed “Il Signore degli 800” recorded his best ever time, 1:43.88, which is still the third best time for an Italian 800m runner.
Sabia had been in the intensive care unit of the San Carlo hospital in Potenza, in the southern Italian region of Basilicata. In a terrible chain of events, Sabia’s father had passed away a few days earlier from COVID-19.
The 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".