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Monday, November 8, 1999 Published at 03:37 GMT


Nebiolo leaves a gaping hole

Nebiolo and interim successor Lamine Diack

The man who has taken over as acting president of the International Amateur Athletics Association, Lamine Diack of Senegal, has a hard act to follow.

His predecessor, Primo Nebiolo, was a larger-than-life figure who left an indelible mark on the sport in his 18 years in the top job.

He was re-elected unopposed to another four year term only a few months ago.

The IAAF's constitution does not say when a new president should be elected. The question will be decided at a meeting of the organisation's ruling council in Monte Carlo in 10 days time.

There is no obvious replacement for Mr Nebiolo, partly because he never groomed a successor.

Critics say this was because he was intent on preserving his complete hold on power.

A big money-spinner

[ image: Flags were at half mast at IAAF headquarters in Monaco]
Flags were at half mast at IAAF headquarters in Monaco
Tributes to the man who multiplied the IAAF's budget from $50,000 in 1981 to $40 million today, thanks mainly to television and sponsorship deals, have been flooding in.

Juan Antonio Samaranch, President of the International Olympic Committee, called Nebiolo "one of the greatest leading sportsmen of this century, who knew how to elevate sport to the place it deserved in contemporary society."

Britain's double Olympic champion, Sebasian Coe, said Mr Nebiolo had transfored an amateur sport into one that now had the ability to attract "huge, huge television audiences".

Born on July 14 1923 in Turin, Mr Nebiolo studied law and political science, and spoke at least five languages.

During World War II, he was a volunteer in the Italian national army, before joining the partisan movement.

Long jumper

His start in sports came as a national-class long jumper, though he later modestly joked about his abilities.

He was president of the Italian Athletics Federation from 1969 to 1989, his reign coming to an end after a scandal at the 1987 World Championships in Rome.

The scandal broke after an Italian long jumper, Giovanni Evangelisti, won the bronze medal with a jump measured by Italian officials as 8.38 metres (27 feet 6 inches).

Investigations later showed that the measurement had been falsified.

Mr Nebiolo was never directly implicated, but he was replaced as head of the national athletics federation two years later.

The Reynolds incident

Another colourful episode in Mr Nebiolo's career was the long-running legal battle between the IAAF and Butch Reynolds, the former 400-metre world record holder.

In 1990, the IAAF suspended Reynolds for a positive drug test. Reynolds, who claimed the test was flawed, successfully sued the IAAF for $27.3 million in a US court.

But the IAAF refused to pay and eventually won a verdict that the American courts had no jurisdiction in the case.

Later, at the 1993 world championships, Reynolds helped the United States break the world record for the 1,600-metre relay

Mr Nebiolo presented the medals, kissing Reynolds on both cheeks.

It was a moment that some regarded as typical for Mr Nebiolo: his reputation as a tyrant belied an engaging warmth.

Power broker

Mr Nebiolo wielded his enormous influence with pride.

He delayed the announcement of the track schedule at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics for months before making a change to allow Michael Johnson a chance to complete an unprecedented 200-400 double.

Mr Nebiolo also upset Australian Olympic organisers by delaying approval of next year's Summer Games.

Earlier this year he helped his native city, Turin, win the right to host the 2006 Winter Olympics, upsetting the favoured candidate, Sion in Switzerland.

It was a sweet victory for Mr Nebiolo, who was widely thought to have hindered Rome's failed 1997 bid for the 2004 Summer Olympics by engaging in public squabbles with Greece, which landed the games for Athens.

His funeral is Tuesday in Rome. A ceremony will be held at the Marmi Stadium, followed by a religious service at the Sacro Cuore Immacolata di Maria church.

The funeral arrangements have been easier to make than finding a replacement will be for the Athletics world.

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