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Attacks on Athletes

On April 30, 1993, Monica Seles, the number-one ranked women’s tennis player in the world, played in the Hamburg Open tournament in Germany. While the 19-year-old sat on the side of the court, she was stabbed between the shoulder blades by Gunter Parche, a 38-year-old fan of Seles’ rival Steffi Graf. Parche received a two year suspended sentence after being convicted of grievous bodily harm in October of the same year, and Seles returned to professional tennis in 1995.

The year after the attack on Seles, American figure skater Nancy Kerrigan, then 24, was preparing for the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. On January 6, she participated in the US Figure Skating Championships in Detroit, Michigan, where she was attacked by a man wielding a police baton. The man, later identified as Shane Stant, had connections to Kerrigan’s rival Tonya Harding, who went on to win the Detroit event, although both skaters were chosen for the Olympic team. Stant, along with Harding’s ex-husband Jeff Gillooly, bodyguard Shawn Eckhardt, getaway car driver Derrick Smith and Harding herself, all received varying punishments for their roles in the attack. Kerrigan was badly injured, but able to skate in the Olympics, earning the silver medal in a close race for the gold against Ukranian Oksana Baiul. Harding finished in eighth place.

Although Seles’ and Kerrigan’s attacks are among the most well-known, a wide variety of other athletes have been the targets of planned assaults over the years. Chinese Paralympic fencer Jin Jing was attacked by protestors as she carried the Olympic torch through Paris, France in 2008. The protestors, unhappy with Chinese policy in Tibet, did not seriously injure Jing, but the attack drew condemnation from Jacques Rogge, the International Olympic Committee President. Rogge professed to be shocked that anyone would attempt to take the torch from a disabled athlete who could not defend herself. Although Jing was celebrated as a hero after the attack, she later drew criticism for denouncing a Chinese boycott of Carrefour, a French retailer. Jing explained that such a boycott would affect Carrefour’s Chinese workers first and that she felt the Chinese-French friendship was important.

More recently, in 2011, Indian volleyball and football player Arunima Sinha was robbed aboard a train. Her assailants then threw her off the moving train onto the tracks, where her left leg was ran over by another train. Sinha lost that leg and also suffered head trauma, several breaks in her right leg and a fractured spine. The railway company offered compensation as well as a job to Sinha, whose attackers were never located, despite a sizable reward being offered.


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