The recent success of Italian athletes at the World Championships in Courchevel and Méribél, France, was overshadowed this week by the announcement of the passing of Italian ski racer Elena Fanchini. The Italian athlete had been battling bowel cancer for five years.
Elena Fanchini was born in 1985 and started competing in World Cups at 19 in January 2005. She stunned everyone by winning Silver in her first year on the world circuit in Downhill at the World Championships in Bormio and also won the Downhill in Lake Louise, Canada, in 2005. A slew of injuries, however, meant her next World Cup victory took her another ten years, when she won the World Cup Downhill at Cortina, Italy, in 2015.
The three-time-Olympian was forced to give up participation in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, Korea, to undergo cancer treatment. She was driven to return to skiing and experienced a plethora of treatments. Elena said, “I recommend it to everyone who fights cancer: set yourself a goal, a dream, even a small one. After all, anyone has one, and in these dark moments, you have to ‘dust it off’: it’s the goal to aim for.”
After ten months of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, Elena beat her cancer and returned to her beloved skiing. She tried a come-back in 2019 but got injured at the Killington Super-G and finally announced her retirement in 2020. Tragically, the cancer returned in August 2022, and Elena lost her battle just half a year later.
Following her passing, an outpouring of messages from the Alpine ski community flooded the Internet and social media channels. The Italian Wintersport Federation ‘FISI’ said in a press release: “President Flavio Roda and the whole family of the Italian Winter Sports Federation are close to Nadia, Sabrina, dad Sandro and mom Giusi in these difficult hours. Elena fought until the end with the grit, determination, and strength that have always defined her. We want to remember her for her love of skiing in the successes of her extraordinary sports career.”
US race skier Mikaela Shiffrin wrote a dedication on her Instagram account: “This was a day filled with emotions. There is so much I’d like to share… but what weighs the heaviest is the loss of Elene Fanchini. I’m sending my condolences to the whole Fanchini Family, who have had such a strong and positive impact on our sport and our world with their passion and, most importantly, always kindness. My heart is also with the Italian team, who truly come across as a family to all of us watching, and who are hurting very deeply now. We are sharing a hotel during this World Championships with the Italian team, and what I can tell you is that their love and strength is pure and true, and I am cheering for their entire team, now more than ever. Those who we have lost will never be forgotten.”
Lindsey Vonn, who competed at the same time as Elena, wrote on her Instagram Story: “RIP Elena. What a loss for the whole family and skiing community.”
A shocked Sofia Goggia wrote (abbreviated and translated from Italian): “There is pain in my chest that’s throbbing and strong and makes me feel sick, very sick, but that makes me feel alive, and it’s a pain that — however raw and upsetting it may be — urges us to keep going. But besides this suffering, it brings the awareness that the love felt for the people we really loved will always accompany us. We can always find it in our hearts. Dear Elly, you have a special place in my heart and in all of us.”
Sofia Goggia had earlier dedicated her victory in Downhill in Cortina, Italy, to Elena Fanchini. The retired skier had asked her to win the red leader bib for her in the Downhill, her favorite discipline. When Goggia won the Downhill at Cortina and claimed the read leader bib, she dedicated it to Elena, writing on her Instagram account: “Elly, this is for you,” and urging her friend to keep fighting and not give up. Elena’s sister Nadia said the dedication brought a smile to the struggling cancer patient, who she quoted as saying, “I am glad I had asked her.”
Elena Fanchini lost her battle with cancer on February 8, 2023, leaving behind her husband, two sisters, Nadia and Sabrina, the former of whom also skied for the Italian national team, her parents and grandparents, as well as her beloved four nephews. She died surrounded by her family. The funeral will be held this Saturday, February 11, 2023, in Solato, Italy. The family asks for donations in her name for cancer research and so far, the initiative has raised €13,100 (approximately USD 14,000).