Italy’s 1984 European indoor 800m champion Donato Sabia has tragically died from coronavirus (Covid-19) at the age of 56 in the southern Italian town of Potenza, the Italian athletics federation (FIDAL) announced late on Wednesday.
He is thought to be the first European athletics champion to have succumbed to the virus which has currently claimed nearly 57,000 lives across Europe, including over 17,000 in Italy.
Sabia made his major international debut at the 1982 European Athletics Indoor Championships but didn’t progress from his heat. The following year he competed in the inaugural World Athletics Championships and while he again didn’t qualify from his 800m heat he was part of an Italian 4x400m quartet that finished fifth.
He won the 1984 European indoor 800m title in Gothenburg with a brave run which saw him take the lead over the first half of the race before finding the front again with 100 metres to go and crossing the line in 1:48.05.
Later in 1984, he set a world best over 500m before making the 1984 Olympic Games 800m and 4x400m finals, finishing fifth in both races.
After several years of injury problems, he returned to top form and also made the 1988 Olympic 800 final, where he finished seventh.
His personal best of 1:43.88 in Florence on 13 June 1984 remains the Italian U-23 record and he is still third on the Italian all-time list over two laps of the track.
Sabia remained involved in athletics after his competitive retirement at the end of 1990 and was the president of the FIDAL regional committee in Basilicata.
European Athletics wishes to pass on its deepest sympathy to his family and to FIDAL at this difficult time, his death coming just a few days after that of his father from the virus.