Martedì, 25 Settembre 2018
ROME

Sprint legend Mennea dies

English
© ANSA

(By Denis Greenan).
Rome, March 21 - Italian sprint legend Pietro
Mennea, holder of the world 200m record for an amazing 17 years,
died Thursday in Rome at the age of 60 after a long battle
against cancer.
The so-called 'Southern Arrow', who came from the Puglia
town of Barletta, was a whippet-thin but incredibly determined
athlete whose innovative training techniques allowed him to
compete with, and often beat, the world's best over a 15-year
career.
Mennea recorded his startling mark of 19.72 seconds in the
World Student Games in Mexico City in 1979. It would only be
beaten in 1996 by US great Michael Johnson, who took it down to
19.66 in the US trials and then to 19.32 at the Atlanta
Olympics.
Asked once by Muhammad Ali why the fastest man on Earth
"could possibly be a white man", the Italian of peasant ancestry
quipped back: "I'm blacker than you on the inside".
Mennea went on to win the 200m gold at the 1980 Moscow
Olympics, beating Scottish sprinter Allan Wells by two
hundredths of a second after a trademark storming comeback
finish in a Games where the great US blacks were absent because
of a boycott following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Wells, who just held Mennea off to claim the 100m gold that
year, said Thursday: "I'm very sad, he was my greatest rival".
Valery Borzov, the Soviet 100m and 200m Olympic champ in
Munich in 1972, "a very great athlete has gone".
The 63-year-old Ukrainian mused sadly, "he was younger than
me...this time he went too fast".
Sara Simeoni, the Italian high-jumper who won gold in the
same Moscow games where Mennea triumphed and trained with him at
Formia between Rome and Naples, said "Pietro had incredible
tenacity...at Formia we shared the work load, we encouraged each
other, a look in the eye was enough".
The ex-coach who set up the Formia training camp, Carlo
Vittori, said: "I first saw Pietro run at the Italian youth
championships in Ascoli in 1968: then and there I understood he
was a natural talent, a force of nature.
"But his biggest gifts were his work ethic and
stubbornness, he was a real pneumatic drill.
"If by chance I arrived five minutes late for training, he
was there tapping his watch".
Vittori said Mennea, who later became a member of the
European Parliament, led a plaintiffs' campaign for the victims
of the Lehman Brothers' collapse, and wrote 24 books on various
subjects, was "a champion on and off the track".
In his last interview, with ANSA on August 10 last year, an
already-ailing Mennea spoke at length about his successors,
including Johnson, Carl Lewis and Usain Bolt.
"Carl was the best, although he never beat my record, but
the all-time great has to be Usain," the subject of his 24th
book.
Italian and world sport went into mourning as news of
Mennea's death spread.
"He leaves a great hole in the Olympic movement", said the
president of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge.
The International Association of Athletics Federations said
it was "sad to hear the news that Italian sprint legend Pietro
Mennea has passed away".
The president of the Italian Olympic Committee, Giovanni
Malago', said: "He wasn't a superman, but he knew how to make
history".
Italy soccer coach Cesare Prandelli said: "He had the force
that we too have inside, to the nth degree".
Italy will don black armbands for their friendly with
Brazil in Geneva Thursday evening.
"All Italian sport is in mourning," said Serie A champions
Juventus on their website.
Formula One racing team Ferrari said "we are grieving for a
standard-bearer of Italian sport".
The Italian railway company said its next high-speed
Frecciarossa (Red Arrow) train would be named after Mennea.
Barletta, the hard-scrabble port where Mennea grew up,
declared a day of mourning Friday.

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