NEWS » Athletics Legend Pietro Mennea passed away

Athletics Legend Pietro Mennea passed away

Rome has given its farewell to a champion. On the 21st of March Pietro Mennea died from cancer in a clinic in Rome. The Italian sprinter, who set the record for the 200 metres in Mexico city in 1979 and whose time remains the European 200m record, died at the age of 60.

Pietro Mennea held the 200m world record for nearly 17 years. He was known in Italy as “la freccia del sud” (the arrow of the south).

The historical day was the 12th of September 1979 at the World University Games in Mexico City where he set the 200m record: 19.72
seconds. Mennea broke the previous record of 19.83, set by the American sprinter Tommie Smith on the same track at the 1968 Olympics. He also beat
Britain’s Allan Wells in the 200 metres at the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

After nearly 17 years Michael Johnson broke Mennea’s record with a 19.66 second run at the US Olympic trials in 1996.  

In 2008 Jamaica's Usain Bolt set the new record 19.19 at the Beijing Olympics. However Mennea's time remains the European record.

Pietro Mennea was born at Barletta, Puglia, on the 28th of June 1952. Apparently when he was very young he used to race against cars for bets.

Mennea began his long international career in 1971, at the European Championships, finishing in sixth place in the 200 and winning the bronze medal with the 4x100 relay. At the age of 19 he had become the Italian 200m champion.

Mennea was the first track athlete to qualify for the 200m final in his first four Olympic competitions. He took the bronze in Munich in 1972; came fourth in 1976 at Montreal; and ended up in seventh place in Los Angeles in 1984.

Mennea was a multi talented man. After retiring he worked as a sports agent for his local football team, Salernitana. He gained four degrees,  a first degree in political science and then in law, physical education and humanities. He was a lawyer, a university lecturer, a business consultant, and a writer. He also had different
political experiences first with the “Italia dei valori”, with whom he was a member of the European Parliament in Brussels from 1999 to 2004, and then with “Forza Italia”.

In 2006 he created together with his wife, the "Fondazione Pietro Mennea" philanthropic non-profit organization, making donations to charities and social or medical-scientific research, cultural and sports associations, through specific projects. The association had also a cultural purpose, to spread the sport and its values, and to promote the fight against doping.

Despite being a sport man, in the last year Mennea praised the Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti’s decision not to back Rome’s planned bid for the 2020 games, as the country’s real priorities laid elsewhere. In a book entitled “I costi delle Olimpiadi” (The Costs of Olympics), he argued that the Olympics never boosted the economy of a host country and they had usually ended up costing considerably more than originally planned without any benefit for the people.

Giulia Lombardo

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