By Sergey Kurdyukov, Russian Eurosport commentator
Former Russian pro Dmitri Neliubin has been killed in a fight on the night of New Year's Day. Late in the evening on January 1, 2005, he and his friends came out to join the New Year celebrations (a couple of years ago a tradition was born in Russia to spend an hour or two outdoors, launching fireworks). It was there that they ran into a large gang of drunk men whose identities are yet to be determined. In the fight that broke out, one of the criminals stabbed Neliubin with a knife. Many sporting fans are sure to remember a similar drama that involved Alexander Popov. The surgery saved the legendary swimmer's life. Neliubin was not so lucky this time: he died in hospital a few hours later.
The news came as a shock to everyone who knows even a little of modern cycling history. Perhaps those who follow every mile of professional road racing only, are very likely to have started forgetting this name, although the rider from St Petersburg made quite a valuable team worker during his career as a pro. Between 1993 and 1997 he rode for Novemail-Histor, Word Perfect, Novell, RDM and Roslotto, excelling in breakaways and making the top-20 in one-day classics. But first and foremost he will surely remain in history books as the youngest ever Olympic champion on the track. He won his title in the 1988 team pursuit in Seoul as a 17 year-old boy, together with Guintautas Umaras, Arturas Kasputis, and his long time friend-in-arms Viatcheslav Ekimov.
Ekimov and Neliubin were brought up by the same coach, Alexander Kuznetsov, and the former was first to enter the pro ranks. During the World's in Japan in 1990, Viatcheslav won his first gold as a professional while Dmitry topped the podium of the amateur team pursuit. From 1993 to 1995 they rode side by side, then each followed the road of his own. Unfortunately, for Neliubin it turned out to be short, as he had to call it a day after the breakup of the first Russian pro team Roslotto. He quit at the age when most of today's young riders are just starting to race seriously.
Presenting our condolences to the family and friends of Dmitry Neliubin, we have no doubts that he will always live in our hearts - not only in the record books. These books are bound to be re-written one day; but no one can re-write what is imprinted on the heart.