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Pietro Mennea

Italian athlete Pietro Paolo Mennea was born on June 28, 1952. At the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, he won a gold medal in the 200-meter dash.

Mennea started his long international athletic career in 1971, when he debuted at the European Championships with a third place in the 4 x 100 m relay. He made his Olympic debut at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, where he made the final of the 200 m, his strongest event. He crossed the line in third place, behind Valeri Borzov and Larry Black. Three more Olympic 200 m finals would follow later in his career.

At the 1974 European Championships, Mennea claimed the 200 m gold in front of his home crowd in Rome, while also placing second behind Borzov in the 100 m and the 4 x 100 m. After some poor performances in the 1976 Olympic season, Mennea decided to skip the Olympics, but the Italian public protested, and Mennea went to Montreal. He did make it to the final of the 200 m, but saw Don Quarrie take the gold, leaving the Italian in fourth. He again placed fourth when the Italian relay team just missed out on the bronze. He successfully defended his European 200 m title in 1978, but displayed his capabilities on the shorter distance by also winning that event in Prague.

In 1979, Mennea, a student in political sciences, took part in the World University Games, which were held on the high-altitude track of Mexico City. His winning time, 19.72 was a new world record. Although the record held out for 17 years, it is often downplayed by noting the high altitude of Mexico. It should be pointed out, though, that Mennea also held the low-altitude world record from 1980 to 1983 (19,96, set in his home town, Barletta). His high altitude record was finally beaten by Michael Johnson at the US Trials for the 1996 Summer Olympics.

The world record holder was also one of the favourites for the Olympic gold in Moscow, especially because of the American boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics. In the 200 m final, Mennea faced reigning champion Don Quarrie, and 100 m champion Allan Wells. Wells seemed to be heading for the gold, but Mennea slowly drew closer on the straight, and edged the Scotsman for the gold by 0,03 second.

Mennea, known in Italy as the Freccia del Sud ("Arrow of the South"), then announced his retirement, allowing himself more time for his study. However, he came back from retirement soon, and won a bronze medal in the 200 m at the inaugural World Championships in Helsinki. A year later, he competed in his fourth consecutive Olympic 200 m final, becoming the first person to do so. The defending champion finished in seventh, and retired from athletics for a second time afterwards. Again, Mennea made a comeback, and competed in his fifth Olympics in Seoul, but didn't make it through the heats of the 200 m.

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