Former Graftonian and Olympic gold medallist Kevin Nichols with his daughter Kate.
Former Graftonian and Olympic gold medallist Kevin Nichols with his daughter Kate.

Nichols survives German tragedy


THE daughter of former Grafton cyclist and Los Angeles Olympic gold medallist Kevin Nichols was in a stable condition in a German hospital yesterday after an out-of-control car crashed into her training group, killing one of her teammates and injuring four others.

Kate Nichols, a 20-year-old University of Wollongong student, was on a training ride with the national development squad near Zeulenroda, 80 kilometres south of the east German city of Leipzig.

The squad was in Germany for a six-day cycling event and had recently completed a 10-day cycling tour in Italy. Yesterday they were out getting the feel of the route for the Tour of Thuringen road race in Southern Germany.

"She was there during her uni holidays," Mr Nichols said yesterday just before boarding a plane to visit his daughter, who is in a hospital in the town of Jena.

"She's doing her best to make us feel better but she's very shaken up at the moment."

Mr Nichols said Kate was suffering from numerous cuts, although he was not yet sure of the extent of her injuries.

"It's a traumatic event for them all (but) she's not aware what's happened to the others.

"When I spoke to Kate she said she saw this car come out of nowhere, lose control and fly across the road. She said there was no way to evade it."

Former Australian rowing representative Amy Gillett, 29, died from multiple injuries while two other members of the team, Alexis Rhodes and Louise Yaxley, were listed as very serious.

The two other injured cyclists, Lorian Graham and Katie Brown, were still in hospital but in a stable condition.

The driver of the car, an 18-year-old woman understood to have held a licence for only a few weeks, was also badly injured. She faces charges of negligent driving resulting in death and injury. According to the police report the driver coming up the hill lost control of her car when it touched the shoulder of the road. It veered across to the wrong side of the road and hit the entire group head-on.

"There were six (cyclists) total. They were riding along and a car came over the white line and hit them head-on," said Lorna Graham of Rockhampton, whose daughter Lorian was one of the injured.

Lorian was well enough to speak to her sister Lisa, who told ABC radio: "She said the next thing that she knew she was on the ground and there was glass everywhere -? she obviously couldn't get up at that point."

The accident has virtually wiped out the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) women's road cycling program, which has now been suspended.

Australian cycling, which has endured a traumatic year involving doping allegations against male riders, is in a state of deep shock.

"For six riders to be hit in one accident like this is just a freak," said CA spokeswoman Gennie Sheer.

She said it was too early to say whether any of them would be able to resume riding at the elite level.

Prime Minister John Howard took time out from his official trip to Washington to offer sympathies and condolences.

Others who sent messages of condolence included Opposition Leader Kim Beazley and Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates.

Mrs Gillett, a PhD student at the University of South Australia, won two gold medals in world junior rowing titles in 1993 and 1994 and was a member of the Australian women's eight which finished fifth in the Atlanta Games. Her husband Simon, a former world champion rower who was also her rowing coach, was told of her death early yesterday morning.

She switched to cycling in 2000, and was a member of the Australian World Cup cycling teams in 2002 and 2003.

She was seriously injured in a road cycling accident during the Canberra Tour of 2001, suffering multiple skull fractures and bruising to the brain.

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