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PROTRACK » GENERAL » Olympic champion Pietro Mennea dies at age of 60

Olympic champion Pietro Mennea dies at age of 60

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Olympic champion Pietro Mennea dies at age of 60

Former 200m Olympic champion and world record holder Pietro Mennea has died at the age of 60.

He had been battling a tumour and was hospitalised in Rome.

"Italian sport is in mourning," the Italian Olympic Committee CONI said of his death.

The Italian was a hugely successful athlete, the pinnacle of his career coming in 1980 when he won the 200m Olympic title in Moscow.

The previous year he had set a time of 19.72 in the 200m. It stood as a world record for 17 years until Michael Johnson broke it, and remains the European record over the distance.

After athletics he served for five years as a member of the European Parliament.



Sprinter and former world record holder Pietro Mennea dies aged 60

RTE Sport
Thursday, 21 Mar 2013

Pietro Mennea's world record lasted for 17 years

Olympic gold-medal winning sprinter and Italian politician Pietro Mennea has died at the age of 60, the Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI) has confirmed.

Mennea, who held the 200-metre world record for 17 years, died from an unspecified illness at a hospital in Rome this morning.

A statement published on read: "Italian sport is in mourning. We are tearful and emotional after Pietro Mennea died in a Roman clinic this morning following a long-term illness.

"The sprinter, who won a gold medal in the 200m at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow and defended the world record at that distance for more than 16 years, was born in Barletta on June 28, 1952."

Mennea won the first of his 14 Italian outdoor titles in the 100m and 200m in 1971 before making his Olympic debut in Munich the following year, winning bronze in the 200m final.

The 1974 European Championships saw him claim the 200m gold in Rome but Mennea could only place fourth in the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal.

His time of 19.72secs at the World University Games in 1979, however, would not be bettered until Michael Johnson clocked 19.32secs during the USA's Olympic trials for the 1996 Games in Atlanta.

Mennea finally collected an Olympic gold medal by beating reigning 200m champion Don Quarrie and 100m champion Allan Wells by 0.02secs at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow.

He also returned from Russia with a second Olympic bronze for helping Italy to win the 4x400m relay final.

He briefly retired in 1983 before returning to win 200m bronze at the inaugural World Championships in Helsinki, going on to finish seventh at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles before competing in his fifth and final Games in Seoul four years later, where he failed to qualify for the final.

Having studied political science towards the end of his running career, Mennea began a five-year term as an elected member of the European Parliament in 1999.

CONI president Giovanni Malago has today cancelled a scheduled business trip to Milan to return to Rome and supervise the organisation of Mennea's funeral.

Malago has also called for a moment of silence to be observed at all sporting events taking place in Italy this weekend.



Pietro Mennea has passed away
Gold medal in Moscow Olympics 200m

By Valerio Piccioni
La Gazzetta dello Sport
21 March 2013

Born in Barletta in 1952, he was 60-years-old and had been fighting a battle against an incurable illness for some time. In 1979 he ran the 200 m in a time of 19"72, setting a world record that stood for the best part of 17 years

Pietro Mennea, the former Italy sprinter, Olympic gold medallist and former world record holder in the 200 m, passed away in a Rome clinic this morning. He was born in Barletta June 28 1952. He had been fighting a battle against an incurable disease for a long time. On hearing the news, Giovanni Malagò, the president of CONI, the Italian Olympic Committee, brought a halt to his work commitments and headed back to Rome from Milan. Malagò immediately announced that from this afternoon, Mennea's body would lie in state at the CONI headquarters in Rome.

The sea in Formia won’t be very calm this morning. That’s because Pietro Mennea has died at the age of 60 years and a few month. Born in Barletta June 28 1952, our thoughts today not only turn to his hometown of Barletta, to his accountancy practice, to the many sporting arena he competed at, to the pain his wife Manuela is feeling, but also turn to the days Pietro spent travelling between the Miramare Hotel and the Scuola Nazionale di Atletica Leggera di Formia, CONI’s ‘sporting school’ in Formia, the place that had become Pietro’s second home. The place where he put in hours of training, even during Christmas, Easter and New Year celebrations. Pietro and the baggy, ill-fitting Italy tracksuit he liked to wear, with his trainer, professor Vittori, watching on, stopwatch in hand. Athletics was his vocation. And he wanted to give every ounce of his energy to it. As Pietro was quoted as saying in one of his many biographies: “whether the race meant nothing and whether the race had turned into a test”. And boy, did Pietro face - and pass – all of his tests! Not just ‘beat’, but ‘out-class’ his opposition, yet always with that sense of his insecurity in the background, the insecurity that would transform into a veritable force of nature when Pietro took to the track. The force of nature of an everyday man who chose to throw down the gauntlet in the world of athletics.

World record and medals
Pietro Mennea was the Olympic champion in Moscow in the 200 m in 1980. The year before, in Mexico City, he set the fastest time ever recorded over the distance, a time of 19”72, that stood until 1996 (Michael Johnson beat it, before the days of Bolt). The record stood for an amazing 6,018 days, and, even today, remains the fastest time ever set by a European athlete over the distance. But his CV includes an almost never-ending list of memorable victories: 3 European Championship titles, Rome ‘74 (100) and Prague ’78 (100 and 200). A silver medal in the 4 x 100 m relay in Helsinki ‘83. And who can forget the fantastic final leg from Mennea in the 4 x 400 m relay in Moscow? And not just one, but 2 comebacks in his athletics career – almost as if it was something he just couldn’t live without, his first comeback in 1982 and then again in 1987. Pietro raced in 5 Olympic Finals, 528 races and competed for Italy 52 times.

Everything started in Barletta, on the track of his first running club, AVIS Barletta. The track he later fought tooth and nail to save when it was threatened with closure and the track on which he set his post Olympic time of 19”96 – it meant almost as much as another gold metal to him. Then, the night in Rome, on the day Tommie Smith, on the other side of the world, set a new world record in the 200 m. The sort of moment something ‘clicks’ inside you and sets you off down the right path. The path that would eventually take Pietro to Olympic bronze in Munich, the disappointment of his 4th place in Montreal, to his European Championship gold medal in Prague. To the young Mexican athlete Pietro befriended in the athlete’s village at the Summer Universiade, a friendship that brought Pietro a lot of good luck and one which Pietro always spoke about fondly. Then to Moscow, the disappointment of the 100 m, his ‘I’m not going to race’ before the 200 m. A lot of toing and froing. Then, his first retirement from the sport and his comeback in Helsinki and the disastrous trip, in 1984, to the Los Angeles Olympics, the first time he ever came across doping in the sport, something that was completely alien to him, an athlete who always dedicated himself completely to training and doing things the hard way.

He then completely dedicated himself to the fight against doping in the sport: books, condemnations, proposed new regulations. Yes, Law. Law was Mennea’s life outside athletics. Jurisprudence, his first degree, in 1989, immediately after the Olympics in Seoul. Qualifications in Political Science, Literature and Sports Science followed. A world record in itself. But now he’s left us. Having lived life to the full. As soon as it became clear to Pietro that he couldn’t continue to make comeback after comeback, he said that he could no longer stand athletics. That was a very strange thing for him to say, almost as if he was convinced that his efforts, all those races, had robbed him of the life that he could have had. He even ended up in football, as an agent and then as the Chief Executive at Salernitana at the end of the ’90s. But football wasn’t his world. Therefore, he turned his hand to politics. He became a member of the European Parliament and speaker for the ‘Report on Sport’ voted on in Strasburg in 2000. He then returned to his career as a lawyer. And rediscovered athletics. He wanted to give something back to the sport, he wanted to communicate, even if the sport he was trying to guide never saw him as a resource. His marriage to Manuela had made him see things in a different light and helped his transformation into a lover of athletics again. Perhaps, he finally came to realise just how important the written word was, and had decided to re-read everything again. He received praise from all over the world. From Mourinho even, who said that Pietro had been an inspiration. But Pietro spent the last few months of his life away from the spotlight. Silence that leaves us wondering whether it would have been possible for us to be nearer to Pietro had we known. Even the slightest piece of information, akin to a passing comment exchanged between friends: “Sorry, I wasn’t able to get back to you. I was in hospital.” The entire world of Italian sport has been left bewildered, but especially the middle aged Italians who remember the times they heard the words “Mennea, Mennea” uttered by Paolo Rosi. The Italians who, as children, would hear the bus driver ask “Who do you think you are? Pietro Mennea!” Today, those Italians have grown up, and now they feel just that little bit older, that little bit more alone, that little bit sadder.

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