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Posted: January 21, 2007

Athletics: Olympic Medalist Cioncan Perishes In Auto Accident

From David Monti

© 2006 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

Maria Cioncan, the 1500m bronze medalist at the 2004 Athens Olympics, died earlier today in an auto accident while driving across Bulgaria on her way home from a winter training camp in Greece, according to her manager, Brendan Reilly. She was 29 years-old.

"Maria, her coach Stefan Beregszaszi, and her massage therapist were driving in two cars," Reilly wrote in an e-mail message to Race Results Weekly. "Stefan said there was nothing out of the ordinary, but at one point he glanced in his rear-view mirror to see Maria's car flip over, go off the road, and strike a tree. It appears Maria was killed instantaneously."

Cioncan, who had a personal best time of 3:58.39, was the seventh-fastest Romanian ever over the 1500m distance behind Paula Ivan, Doina Melinte, Gabriele Szabo, Maricica Puica, Natalia Marasescu, and Violeta Szekely. Her bronze medal in Athens was a bit of a surprise; she beat more established runners like Lidia Chojecka of Poland and Daniela Yordanova of Bulgaria. In Athens she doubled in the 1500m and 800m, making it to the final of the shorter event where she finished seventh.

According to Reilly, Cioncan had recently completed two months of warm weather training in Morocco and Greece in preparation for the European indoor season, where she was scheduled to compete in Moscow, Eaubonne, Gent, and Stockholm, in addition to the Romanian and European Championships.

"I could not be more shocked," Reilly wrote. "Maria was as vibrant and cheerful aperson as I've ever met. Throughout all of the frustrating injuries and setbacks the past two years, she never flagged in her confidence that she would be back in the mix for medals in Osaka and Beijing."

Cioncan was from the town of Hunedoara in Transylvania where she was regarded as a bonafide star because of her Olympic medal. Reilly recounted going there after the Athens Olympics where Cioncan's medal was celebrated by everyone.

"One day, following lengthy ceremonies at the city hall, where the mayor and every conceivable town notable where in attendance, a dozen or so of us with a few journalists headed over to a local restaurant, where the owner had told Maria she was going to dine free for the next full year in honor of her Athens performance. Given the amount our group ate and drank the next two and a half hours, I had to believe the owner was going to re-think his offer."

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