Great Italians of the Past: Pietro Mennea

Aug 19, 2016 477

WTI Magazine #82    2016 August 19
Author : Giovanni Verde      Translation by:


The XXXI Olympic Games of the Modern Era in Rio de Janeiro give us an opportunity to tell the life of Pietro Mennea, an Italian man who was first of all an athlete, and then became the symbol of the Italian tenacity and versatility. He graduated four times in his life: after his athletic career hi ran for a political position, wrote many essays on various topics, exercising also the professions of lawyer and accountant.

Pietro Mennea was born in Barletta (Puglia) on June 28, 1952 from a family of modest origins: his father was a tailor, his mother a housewife. An anecdote tells that at age 15, on a main road of Barletta, won by running a speed challenge on 50 meters with a Porsche and Alfa Romeo, winning 500 lire that he used to buy a ticket for the movies.

He graduated for the first time in Political Science in Bari, on the advice of Aldo Moro, then Minister of Foreign Affairs. After that, Pietro will also graduate in Law, in Sports Science and in Letters. Mennea will be appointed Adjunct Professor of European Law of motor and sports activities at the faculty of motor sciences of education at the University "Gabriele d'Annunzio" of Chieti-Pescara.

In 2006 he created, together with his wife, the "Fondazione Pietro Mennea", a philanthropic non-profit that, through specific projects, makes donations and social assistance to charitable organizations or in favor of medical and scientific research, or to cultural and sports associations. Among other purposes, one of the most important is the dissemination of sport and its values among the young Italians, and the fight against doping.

In addition to the sporting career, he worked as a physical education teacher, a bankruptcy trustee, an accountant and as a Member of the European Parliament in Brussels from 1999 to 2004. 

But Pietro Mennea as an athlete will remain in the history of modern sport thanks to its Olympic performances and to a legendary world record. He did his Olympic debut in Monaco of Bavaria, in the 1972 Olympic Games, where he reached mens' 200 meters final, crossing the finish line in third place, behind the Soviet Valery Borzov and the American Larry Black. To this, other three Olympic finals in the same specialty will follow.

It is in 1979 when Mennea, a political science student, takes part in the Universiade (an international multi-sport event, organized for university athletes) that disputes on the tracks of Mexico City. With the time of 19,72 seconds he not only wins the 200-meter dash, but also breaks the world record: his will endure for 17 years, until the US trials for the Atlanta Olympic Games of 1996, when Michael Johnson will stop the clock at 19,66 seconds. In 1980, as the world record holder, Mennea is certainly one of the favorites for the Olympic gold in Moscow. In the men's 200m final, Mennea challenges, among others, the defending champion Don Quarrie and the gold medal of men's 100m, Allan Wells. Wells, in the seventh lane, overtakes immediately Mennea, who runs alongside the eighth lane, and seems to easily head towards a clear victory. Entering the final straight, Mennea is sixth: but he comes back fast and passes everyone in the last meters, winning the gold for two hundredths of a second.

Pietro Mennea dies in Rome on March 21, 2013, just 60 years old, because of a tumor. His figure has entered in the Italian collective imagination as a man of extraordinary ability, of great sports and human values, a symbol that achieved his successes in life through hard work and dedication, passion and tenacity, intelligence and a big big heart.

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