Speedskater Goes From Anonymity To Celebrity in Italy
Saturday, February 25, 2006
TURIN, Italy, Feb. 24 -- Enrico Fabris was slipped phone numbers by many attractive women this week. Many numbers. "I don't have a girlfriend, so I must choose wisely," the boyishly good-looking Italian double gold medalist said.
He acknowledged that none of these signoras knew him before last week.
President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi telephoned to congratulate him, though it is possible neither knew his name before calling. Press attaches do not remember Italian presidents and prime ministers ever calling a speedskater.
Friday, Fabris (pronounced Fah-BREEZE) is Roberto Baggio on ice. Competing in a sport his nation cares nothing about, Fabris is experiencing the celebrity of a soccer icon.
He is getting so big, Italian journalists bemoan Fabris sharing his time with foreign media. "Does he forget us now that he is popular?" a man from Italy's largest newspaper, Gazzetta dello Sport, said in Italian.
Enrico Fabris either feigned not hearing him or he wanted the man and his compatriots to wait -- the way they made him wait.
"I used to call Gazzetta dello Sport from Hamar, Norway," Fabris said Friday after his last competition of the Turin Olympics, the 10,000 meters, in which he finished eighth.
As Fabris told it, a clerk would pick up the phone and say "Sports," and the greatest long-track skater in Italy's inglorious speedskating history would respond like any kid calling in a softball score to the local paper.
Except he wasn't calling from across town.
He was calling from the European championships.
"Hello, this is Enrico Fabris. I am European champion. Can you put this in the paper?"
"No one know anything about me before Olympics," Fabris said. "Now I will enjoy my moment and take it all through my life with me."