Enrico Fabris





Speed skater

Born October 5, 1981, in Asiago, Italy.

Addresses: Contact —Italian National Olympic Committee, Foro Italico 00194, Rome, Lazio, Italy. Home —Roana, Italy. Website —http://www.enrico-fabris.com.

Career

Began competing in short-track speed-skating competitions at age six; took up long-track skating at age 12; joined the Italian national team, 2001; made his Olympic debut, 2002; earned Olympic gold, 2006.

Awards: Silver medal, Italian Allround Championships, 2001; bronze medal, Italian Allround Championships, 2002; gold medal, Italian Allround Championships, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006; gold medal, 5, 000 meter, gold medal, 1, 500 meter, bronze medal, 1, 000 meter, World Winter University Games, 2005; silver medal, 5, 000 meter, bronze medal, 1, 500 meter, World Cup Final, 2006; gold medal, Allround, European Championships, 2006; silver medal, Allround, World Championships, 2006; bronze medal, 5, 000 meter, gold medal, 1, 500 meter, gold medal, team pursuit, Olympic Games, 2006.

Sidelights

Before the 2006 Winter Olympics, hosted by his own country, Italian speed skater Enrico Fabris was a virtual unknown, even in his homeland. The

four-time national champion skated in relative anonymity in a country where soccer and cycling reign supreme. Fabris' performance at the Olympics, however, catapulted him to hero status when he became the first Italian in history to win a long-track speed-skating medal. Over the course of the Games, Fabris earned two gold medals and a bronze, making him the host nation's top medal-winner. His most glorious moment came in the men's 1, 500 meter, when Fabris defeated American pre-race favorites Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick to earn the gold.

Born October 5, 1981, in the northern Italian city of Asiago, Fabris (pronounced Fah-BREEZE) grew up alongside two brothers. He caught the skating bug early on and honed his skills on the city's natural ice track. By the age of six, he was competing in short-track speed-skating races. At 12, Fabris started competing in long-track competitions, continuing in both until he was 17, when he decided to concentrate on long-track skating. As Fabris devoted himself to the sport and to his training, he received encouragement from his priest uncle, who continually cheered him on.

Fabris made his debut with the Italian national team in 2001. That year, he placed second at the Italian Allround Championships. In the allround event, participants skate four distances and receive an overall rank based on times for each distance. Fabris made his Olympic debut the following year, at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, where he placed 16th in the 5, 000 meter and 26th in the 1, 500 meter. When Fabris won the European Championship in the allround in January of 2006, no one from his homeland was even following the story. Fabris phoned the Italian sports daily, the Gazzetta dello Sport , to report his win.

Fabris skated in four events at the 2006 Games. His first event was the 5, 000 meter race, held the first day of Olympic competition. As he approached the halfway mark of the race, Fabris gazed up at the giant television screen to find himself in seventh place. The arena was packed with Italians, who began cheering wildly. Fabris dug in and came out the bronze medalist after completing his last lap in a blistering 29.25 seconds, which was 1.45 seconds faster than Hedrick, who took the gold. "In the middle of the race, the crowd pushed me on. I don't have any words to describe this medal, " Fabris commented later, according to the NBC Olympics web-site. The medal was the first of the Games for the host country, but more important, it marked the first time an Italian had won an Olympic long-track speed-skating medal. Five days later, Fabris earned gold in the team pursuit, a new Olympic event.

Five days after his second medal win, Fabris was back on the ice, competing in the men's 1, 500 meter, which insiders believed would be won by either Hedrick or Davis. The two Americans had been bickering since the start of the Games. Fabris skated against the Netherlands' Simon Kuipers in the 17th of 21 heats. Italians packed the Lingotto Oval for the event, waving their flags in the air alongside signs that read, "Forza, Enrico." The crowd's enthusiasm prompted Fabris to skate with heart and soul. When Fabris finished, he knew his time of 1:45.97 seconds was good, but he did not know if it would stand against the remaining eight skaters, including world record holder Hedrick. Hedrick breezed across the finish line at 1:46.22 at which point Fabris figured he had the silver because Davis still had to skate in the final heat. During his race, Davis' splits looked like they were good enough for gold, but in the end, he swept over the line with a time of 1:46.-13, giving Fabris the gold. The crowd went wild. It was an amazing accomplishment for someone who had finished 26th in the event at the previous Olympics.

Fabris' blazing performances surprised even his own country. "We knew that Fabris was improving, " Italian sports columnist Gianni Merlo told the San Francisco Chronicle 's Carl T. Hall. "We knew that he was very strong. Some people in my field, track and field, they told me he was an incredible talent. And I must say they were completely right."

With three Olympic medals, the demure and boyishly handsome 6-foot-2, 165-pound skater became a national hero, garnering calls of congratulations from the Italian prime minister and president. Italy won five gold medals at the Olympics—and two belonged to Fabris. Countless women posted kisses on his website and a headline in the Gazzetta dello Sport proclaimed, "Fabris, the Man of the Games."

When Fabris is not skating, he takes university courses over the Internet, mostly in science. He also unwinds by playing the electric guitar. Prior to the Olympics, Fabris lived with his parents in Roana as skaters in Italy earn just a modest living compared to their soccer star counterparts. He has also worked as a police officer for the Italian army, but spent most of his time training and could not afford to live on his own. However, it was anticipated that Fabris' Olympic medals would bring him 300, 000 euros in compensation from the Italian government. Fabris said he intended to take a vacation, perhaps to the United States or Norway, and buy a house.

While Fabris enjoyed the attention his wins brought and spent time joking with the press that he would finally be able to get a girlfriend, he also remained steadfast in his commitment to stay true to himself. After his win, Fabris turned down a lucrative deal to appear on an Italian reality television show. As Fabris told the San Francisco Chronicle during the Olympic Games: "After this I am for sure more famous, but I am sure I will stay with my feet on the ground, you know, and not change my inside life. I want to stay the same as before. But I would like to enjoy this moment."

Sources

Periodicals

Los Angeles Times , February 26, 2006, p. S2.

San Francisco Chronicle , February 26, 2006, p. C9.

Washington Post , February 25, 2006, p. E10.

Online

"A Star Is Reborn: Italy's Fabris Stole Thunder from Supposed Showdown, " SI.com, http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2006/olympics/2006/writers/02/21/spee .fabris/index.html (February 27, 2006).

"Enrico Fabris, " NBCOlympics.com, http://www. nbcolympics.com/athletes/5084383/detail.html (April 17, 2006).

"Enrico Fabris, " SkateResults.com, http://www. skateresults.com/skater/show/1386 (May 22, 2006).

"Fabris Wins First Medal for Host Italy, " NBC Olympics.com, http://www.nbcolympics.com/speedskating/5100620/detail.html (May 15, 2006).

"Italy Toasts Its Man of the Games, " Italy magazine, http://www.italymag.co.uk/2006/news-from-italy/italy-toasts-its-man-of the-games/ (May 15, 2006).

Lisa Frick



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