At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Gelindo Bordin - marathon champion

First Italian to win Olympic gold in ultimate endurance test



Bordin on his way to victory in Seoul, pursued by the Djibouti runner Hussain Ahmed Salah
Bordin on his way to victory in Seoul, pursued
by the Djibouti runner Hussain Ahmed Salah
Gelindo Bordin, the first Italian to win the gold medal in the Olympic Marathon, was born on this day in 1959 in Longare, a small town about 10km (six miles) south-east of Vicenza.

Twice European marathon champion, in 1986 and 1990, he won the Olympic competition in Seoul, South Korea in 1988.

Until Stefano Baldini matched his achievements by winning the marathon at the Athens Olympics in 2004 and claiming his second European title in Gothenburg in 2006, Bordin was Italy’s greatest long-distance runner.

He attained that status somewhat against the odds, too, having been sidelined for a year with a serious intestinal illness at the age of 20 and then being hit by a car while on a training run.

Bordin’s victory in Seoul at last made up for the disappointment the Italy team had suffered 80 years earlier when Dorando Pietri crossed the line first in the marathon at the London Olympics of 1908 only to be disqualified. In a bizarre finish to the race, Pietri took a wrong turning on entering the White City Stadium and had to be helped to his feet five times after collapsing on the track through exhaustion.

Relive Bordin's Olympic triumph




Bordin went on to win the Boston Marathon in the United States in 1990, the first reigning Olympic champion to win an event in which Olympians had seemed previously to be jinxed. His time of two hours, eight minutes and 19 seconds was the best of his career.

That year was a special one all round for Bordin. In September he successfully defended his European title in Split, Yugoslavia, becoming the first man to win the event twice, and just 35 days later he won the city marathon in Venice.

Earlier in his career he had won the city marathons of Milan, on his marathon debut in 1984, and Rome, three years later.

Bordin interviewed for a 2016 TV  documentary about his career
Bordin interviewed for a 2016 TV
documentary about his career
Venice was his last major success. In the World Championships in Tokyo in 1991, where he was hoping to improve on his bronze medal in Rome in 1987, he finished a disappointing eighth.

The following year, in Barcelona, his defence of his Olympic title ended at the halfway stage, when he strained a groin muscle jumping over a fallen runner. He was unable to finish the race and announced his retirement soon afterwards.

Like many Italian boys and girls, football was Bordin’s first sporting passion and he played as a goalkeeper for a junior team in Vicenza.

But after he was invited to take part in a cross-country race in his home village he fell in love with running and decided to give up his football ambitions.

He focussed at first on mountain cross-country running and at 17 he was one of the top Italian distance runners. Then came two major setbacks that might have finished a less determined athlete.

Bordin wins the European title Stuttgart in 1986
Bordin wins the European title
Stuttgart in 1986
The first came during a training camp in Mexico City, when he picked up a bug and developed intestinal problems that forced him out of competition for a year.

Then, shortly after making his comeback, he was hit by a car, suffering injuries that put him out of action for another year.

At 22, he made a second comeback and after winning in Milan on his marathon debut decided to become a professional runner.

At a time when doping scandals were beginning to damage the reputation of athletics – the sprinter Ben Johnson was stripped of his 100m gold three days before the marathon in Seoul – Bordin takes pride in having never been tempted to do anything that could be seen as cheating.

Following his retirement, he did not run again for 16 years until he was persuaded to take part in the Turin marathon on its 25th anniversary in 2009.

He began working for the Italian sports apparel manufacturer Diadora immediately after his retirement and today is the sports merchandising and marketing director of the company, which is based at Caerano, 25km (15 miles) north-west of Treviso.

A church in Longare made in Costozza limestone
Travel tip:

Longare, a town of 5,700 inhabitants, is on the road between Vicenza and Este in the Veneto region, skirting an area known as the Berici Hills of which the peak is Monte Barico. The architect Andrea Palladio used the area’s characteristic Costozza limestone in the construction of many of his famous villas. The area is popular with hikers although its tourist economy suffered after the US Army’s base just outside the town was chosen as a cold war site for nuclear weapons, giving rise to fears of contamination.

Travel tip:

Caerano – or Caerano di San Marco to use its full name – is a largely modern town today but was once a signoria – a medieval city-state – that belonged first to the Ezzelini family, who were powerful in the 13th century, before passing into the hands of the Scaligeri family and eventually coming under the rule of the Republic of Venice. There are a few remnants of the ancient Venetians and some Roman artefacts, but the town’s main claim to fame today lies in being the home not only of the Diadora brand but also the Sanremo and Sanmarco labels.

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