Monday 24 October 2016

Death of Iranian cyclist casts a shadow over the Paralympics

Matt McGeehan

Published 18/09/2016 | 09:44

Bahman Golbarnezhad competing in the men's road race C4-5 - the Iranian died after crashing
Bahman Golbarnezhad competing in the men's road race C4-5 - the Iranian died after crashing

Iranian cyclist Bahman Golbarnezhad died following a crash at the Rio Paralympics on Saturday.

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Golbarnezhad is the first athlete to die during Paralympic competition, the International Paralympic Committee said.

A joint investigation involving Rio 2016, the IPC, Rio police, medical authorities and cycling's world governing body, the UCI, has been opened to establish the full circumstances of what was described as a tragic accident.

The 48-year-old from Shiraz was taking part in the men's C4/C5 road race when he lost control on a descent, 35 kilometres into the race, at 1035 local time (1435BST), the secretary general of Iran's National Paralympic Committee (NPC) said.

The crash happened on a downhill section and a right-hand bend on Avenida Estado da Guanabara on the hilly Grumari circuit, a spokesman for the Rio 2016 organising committee said.

Iran NPC's secretary general Masoud Ashrafi said Golbarnezhad had "lost control and he hit the fence or wall".

Witness statements were being taken in a bid to ascertain if any other rider was involved and the exact circumstances of the accident.

Golbarnezhad received immediate medical attention and initially presented good vital signs, despite sustaining a head injury which caused significant damaged to his cycling helmet, a Rio 2016 spokesman added.

But his condition deteriorated after he was transferred to an ambulance, Rio 2016 spokesman Mario Andrada said at a media conference on Saturday evening.

And Golbarnezhad died following a second cardiac arrest - the first happened as he was transferred into the ambulance - on arrival at Unimed Rio Hospital in Barra at 1150 (1550BST) on Saturday.

IPC president Sir Philip Craven said: "This is an absolutely tragic day for the Paralympic movement and also the Games here in Rio.

"The Paralympic family is united in grief at this horrendous tragedy which casts a shadow over what have been great Paralympic Games here in Rio."

UCI sports director Piers Jones defended the nature of the course and insisted full risk assessments had been carried out. The accident did not happen on the quickest section of the course.

Jones said: "The courses are designed to be competitive. All the cyclists here are experienced cyclists. And the levels of different functional ability are accounted for.

"There were several different courses being used for the para-cycling road races, which reflected the functional ability of each of the sport classes."

Rio 2016, which took cost-cutting measures in the implementation of the Paralympics, and the IPC insisted none of the cuts affected the athletes, competitions or safety.

Craven added that the ambulance was staffed by a doctor, in addition to paramedics.

"Everything was done to try to save Bahman's life," Craven said.

The road races began at Pontal and included the Grumari circuit incorporated in the Rio Olympics road races.

The Vista Chinesa circuit - which included a treacherous descent where Holland's Annemiek van Vleuten crashed into the kerb, sustaining heavy concussion - was not part of the Paralympic course.

Golbarnezhad was 14th in the time-trial on Wednesday and also competed at the London 2012 Paralympics. He was Iran's sole cyclist at the Rio Games.

Reports of Golbarnezhad's death first emerged on Saturday afternoon and the IPC announced it in a statement at 1800 local time (2200BST).

The delay was due to the need for the Iran NPC to inform his family and Iran's 110 athletes and 18 officials at the Rio Paralympics before making the news public.

Iran's NPC had two requests - that Golbarnezhad's body be released to be returned to his family and that a full investigation take place.

Craven gave his assurances that any firm facts established would be communicated to Iran's NPC and Golbarnezhad's family prior to full publication of the report.

Golbarnezhad had his lower left leg amputated following injuries sustained during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. Officials did not know further details. He was married and had one son.

Iran NPC secretary general Ashrafi added: "Bahman was one of the most hard-working active athletes that we've had.

"He had been cycling for 12 years and he was our best cyclist. He was a family man. He loved his family, he loved his son.

"They're having a very, very difficult situation at the moment and all I can hope for is his body is with his family and it would be something to make them feel better."

The IPC said the Iranian flag has been lowered to half-mast in the athletes' village. The Paralympic flag will also be flown at half-mast in the Paralympic Village and at the Riocentro venue, where Iran play Bosnia and Herzegovina on Sunday in the sitting volleyball gold medal match.

A period of silence will be held during Sunday night's closing ceremony.

Saturday's race was won by Daniel Abraham of Holland, with Brazil's Lauro Chaman second and Andrea Tarlao of Italy third.

Press Association

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