Atalanta coach feared for his life as he fought virus

Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini. (AP file photo)
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Updated 31 May 2020

Atalanta coach feared for his life as he fought virus

ROME: When Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini was struggling with the coronavirus in mid-March, the prospect of entering Bergamo’s hospital — which was overflowing with COVID-19 patients at the time —  made him fear for his life.

“Every two minutes an ambulance passed by … It seemed like a war,” Gasperini said. “At night, I would think, ‘If go in there (the hospital), what will happen to me?’”

Fortunately for Gasperini, he quickly recovered and did not have to check into the Pope John XXIII hospital. The coach only recently confirmed that he had the virus when the entire team was tested 10 days ago, he said in an interview with the Gazzetta dello Sport published on Sunday.

The 62-year-old Gasperini started feeling sick on March 9, a day before Atalanta played at Valencia in the second leg of the Champions League round of 16.

He said that when he returned to Bergamo, which was quickly becoming the epicenter of the pandemic, “I didn’t have a fever but I felt destroyed and as if I had a 40-degree (Celsius, or 104 Fahrenheit) fever.”

Many experts have pointed to the first leg game between Atalanta and Valencia on Feb. 19 in Milan as one of the biggest reasons why the virus was so deadly in Bergamo. The match has been dubbed “Game Zero” by the local media.

With the virus advancing rapidly across Europe, the second leg in Valencia was played without fans. Still, more than 35% of Valencia’s team became infected.

More than 16,000 people have died from the virus in the Lombardy region containing Bergamo, which has been one of the hardest-hit cities.

“It will take years to really understand what happened,” Gasperini said. “Every time I think about it, it seems absurd: The high point of our sporting (achievement) coincided with the city’s deepest pain.

“I feel more Bergamasco now,” added Gasperini, who is from the Turin area.

Previously the only member of Atalanta who was confirmed as testing positive for the virus was reserve goalkeeper Marco Sportiello.

Atalanta advanced to the quarterfinals on 8-4 aggregate but has not played since then with soccer not due to restart in Italy until mid-June.

“Atalanta can help Bergamo recover, while respecting the pain and those in mourning,” Gasperini said. “It will take time to see people celebrating again in the piazzas or at the airport, but the Bergamaschi keep their fires burning under the ashes.

“There isn’t one player who left the city. More than one of them lost weight, which could also be the sign of psychological issues,” the coach added. “It’s difficult to read everyone’s repressed emotional state. Some of them had their families far away.

“One thing for sure, though, is that the squad remained connected with Bergamo’s suffering and it will bring that out onto the field.”


Tiger Woods cautious about return ahead of Memorial

Updated 15 July 2020

Tiger Woods cautious about return ahead of Memorial

  • PGA Tour officials confirmed that the remainder of the 2019-2020 season would take place without fans

WASHINGTON: Tiger Woods admitted Tuesday that concern over the coronavirus delayed his return to the PGA Tour as he prepares to play his first event since February at this week's Memorial Tournament in Ohio.

The former world No. 1 has not played since appearing in the Genesis Invitational in Los Angeles in February but will tee off at Muirfield on Thursday chasing a sixth victory in the Jack Nicklaus-hosted event.

The 44-year-old 15-time major winner said Tuesday he had contemplated returning to the tour earlier but had wanted to see how the first few events of the post-coronavirus shutdown fared before coming back.

"I just felt it was better to stay at home and be safe," Woods said Tuesday.

"I'm used to playing with lots of people around me or having lots of people have a direct line to me, and that puts not only myself in danger but my friends and family, and just been at home practicing and social distancing and being away from a lot of people.

"Coming back and playing the tour, in my case over the 20-some-odd years I've been out here, that's really hard to say, that I'm used to having so many people around me or even touch me, going from green to tee.

"That's something that I looked at and said, well, I'm really not quite comfortable with that, that whole idea."

Memorial organizers had initially planned to allow fans on the course at this week's tournament, but abandoned that idea as COVID-19 cases across the US began to skyrocket.

On Monday, PGA Tour officials confirmed that the remainder of the 2019-2020 season would take place without fans.

It means Woods will tee off on Thursday alongside world No. 1 Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka without the customary horde of spectators that usually follows him around a course.

"It's going to be different, there's no doubt about it," Woods said.

"For most of my career, pretty much almost every competitive playing round that I've been involved in, I've had people around me, spectators yelling, a lot of movement inside the gallery with camera crews and media."

Woods, who is making only his fourth tournament appearance of the season this week, said he has improved his health during the long layoff.

A stiff back hampered his performance at the Genesis in February, but Woods said he had not been troubled since.

"I feel so much better than I did then," Woods said.

"I've been able to train and concentrate on getting back up to speed and back up to tournament speed.

During Woods' layoff, the US was convulsed by nationwide protests against racism following the death of unarmed African-American man George Floyd during his arrest by police in Minneapolis on May 25.

Woods said he applauded efforts of Black Lives Matter activists to bring about change.

"I think change is fantastic as long as we make changes without hurting the innocent, and unfortunately that has happened. 

Hopefully it doesn't happen in the future, but a movement and change is fantastic," Woods said.

"That's how society develops. That's how we grow. That's how we move forward. That's how we have fairness."