25 May 2017

Stefano Baldini - Olympic marathon champion

Won gold medal over historic course in Athens

Stefano Baldini, Italy's fastest marathon runner to date
Stefano Baldini, Italy's fastest
marathon runner to date
Stefano Baldini, the marathon runner who was Olympic champion in Athens in 2004 and twice won the European marathon title, as born on this day in 1971 in Castelnovo di Sotto, about 14km (nine miles) north-west of the city of Reggio Emilia.

Although Baldini’s class was not doubted, his Olympic gold was slightly tarnished by an incident seven kilometres from the finish when a spectator broke through the barriers and attacked the Brazilian runner, Vanderlei de Lima, who was leading the field.

The spectator, an Irishman called Conelius Horan who had disrupted the British Grand Prix motor race the previous year, was wrestled off de Lima by another spectator but the incident cost the Brazilian 15 to 20 seconds and much momentum. He was passed subsequently by Baldini and finished third.

Baldini finished the race, which followed the historic route from Marathon to Athens, in two hours 10 minutes and 55 seconds, although this was not the fastest time of his career.

His best was the 2:07:56 he clocked at the 1997 London Marathon, when he finished second, in what is still the fastest time by an Italian over the marathon distance.

Baldini comes from a family of 11 children, among whom he has two brothers who were distance runners, Marco once achieving a time of 2:16:32 in the marathon. Throughout his career he has run in the colours of the Calcestruzzi Corradini Rubiera club, based in the town of Rubiera, midway between Reggio Emilia and Modena.

Stefano Baldini (left) passes the Brazilian Vanderlei de Lima on the way to winning the 2004 Olympic marathon in Athens
Stefano Baldini (left) passes the Brazilian Vanderlei de Lima
on the way to winning the 2004 Olympic marathon in Athens
He began racing over long distances even as a teenager. Initially his specialities were the 5,000m and 10,000m and he was 24 before he took on his first marathon, when he finished sixth in the Venice Marathon in 2:11:01.

Before winning his Olympic gold in Athens had already taken part in the marathon in Sydney in 2000, having competed at 5,000m and 10,000m at the Atlanta Games in 1996, making the semi-finals in the former.

He took the gold medal in the half-marathon at the World championships in 1996 in Palma de Mallorca.

His first important marathon victory came at the European championships in 1998 in Budapest.  He won the Rome Marathon in the same year.

Baldini won a second European gold eight years later in Gothenburg. His best performances over the marathon distance in the World championships came in Edmonton in 2001 and Paris in 2003, taking the bronze medal on each occasion.

Stefano Baldini in action in the  New York marathon
Stefano Baldini in action in the
New York marathon
He went to Beijing in 2008 to defend his Olympic title but after finishing 12th he announced his retirement, having the same year competed in his ninth London Marathon, in which he also came home 12th.  By then Baldini was 37, although he did attempt a comeback in 2010 before announcing that he would be giving up for good and concentrating on his work with the Italian Athletics Federation.

In 2014, by which time he had become established as the technical director for youth athletics in Italy, Baldino took part in a charity event to mark the 10th anniversary of his Athens victory, which made him the second Italian, after Gelindo Bordin, to win an Olympic marathon gold.

Married to the former 400m runner Virna de Angeli, he lives today in Rubiera with his wife and three children, Alessia, Laura and Lorenzo.

The Via Appia forms Rubiera's porticoed main street
The Via Appia forms Rubiera's porticoed main street
Travel tip:

The town of Rubiera was established in around 1200 when a castle was built to protect the city of Modena. It sits alongside the Secchia river and flanks the Via Appia. The castle became a prison at the time the town was owned by the Este family. It was sold at auction in 1873, half becoming private property and half taken on by the municipal authorities.  Today very little remains of the original structure.  The town itself is characterised by streets lined with porticoes.  Notable buildings include the 15th century Palazzo Sacrati and the art nouveau Teatro Herberia.

Travel tip:

Castelnovo di Sotto, a community of around 8,000 people in the Po Valley, is famous as the home of one of Italy’s most ancient carnivals, dating back to the 16th century, and the birthplace of Luigi Melegari, one of the founders of the Young Italy movement alongside Giuseppe Mazzini and an important figure in the Risorgimento.

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