Showing posts with label Dorando Pietri. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dorando Pietri. Show all posts

16 March 2018

Emilio Lunghi - athlete

Italy's first Olympic medallist 

Emilio Lunghi in his Sport Pedestre Genova club vest
Emilio Lunghi in his Sport Pedestre
Genova club vest
Emilio Lunghi, a middle-distance runner who was the first to win an Olympic medal in the colours of Italy, was born on this day in 1886 in Genoa.

Competing in the 800 metres at the 1908 Olympic Games in London, Lunghi took the silver medal behind the American Mel Sheppard. In a fast-paced final, Lunghi's time was 1 minute 54.2 seconds, which was 1.8 seconds faster than the previous Olympic record buts still 1.4 seconds behind Sheppard.

It was the same Olympics at which Lunghi's compatriot Dorando Pietri was controversially disqualified after coming home first in the marathon, when race officials took pity on him after he collapsed from exhaustion after entering the stadium and helped him across the line.

A versatile athlete who raced successfully at distances from 400m up to 3,000m, Lunghi was national champion nine times in six events and is considered the first great star of Italian track and field.

An all-round sportsman, Lunghi was a talented gymnast, swimmer and boxer, but after winning a 3,000m-race in his home city he was encouraged to develop his potential as a runner by joining Sport Pedestre Genova, at the time the most important athletics club in Liguria.

In June 1906 in the historic city of Vercelli in Piedmont, Lunghi took his first national title in the 1500m. In the next six years, he was at different times Italian champion over 400m and 400m hurdles, 800m, 1000m (three times), 1500m (twice) and 1200m steeplechase.

Piazza di Siena in Rome's Borghese Gardens, where Lunghi won the 400m and 700m events to qualify for the 1908 Olympics
Piazza di Siena in Rome's Borghese Gardens, where Lunghi
won the 400m and 700m events to qualify for the 1908 Olympics
The qualifying competition for the 1908 Olympics took place on a track round the Piazza di Siena within the Borghese Gardens in Rome, watched by members of the Italian royal family. Lunghi won both the 400m and 1000m events, the latter in a world record time of 2 min 31 sec.

In London, Lunghi should have participated in the 1500m as well as the 800m, but the qualifying rules were that only the winners of the eight heats could take part in the final and Lunghi was beaten into second place in his by the Englishman Norman Hallows, although his time was quicker than any of the other seven heat winners.

As it was he had to content himself with the 800m, which Sheppard won after deciding to run a very fast first lap and building such a lead that Lunghi was unable to catch him, even though the American's second lap was almost seven seconds slower than his first.

After the Olympics, Lunghi spent a profitable year in North America, where he participated in 31 races and won 27, setting world records at 700 yards, 880yds and 1320yds (two-thirds of a mile).

Lunghi spent a year racing in the USA and Canada
Lunghi spent a year racing in
the USA and Canada
He had been invited to America by the Irish-American Athletics Club, for whom Sheppard raced. His accomplishments during his time there were recognised with honorary life membership of the club, on whose own track at Celtic Park stadium in Queens, New York, he set the world's fastest time for the 700yds.

His 880yd record came only eight days later at the Canadian championships Montreal.

Returning home, he continued to collect national titles, but his second Olympics was a disappointment.  At the Stockholm Games in 1912 he was eliminated at the semi-final stage in both the 400m and 800m events.

The First World War denied him a third Olympics and at the end of the conflict he announced his retirement from competitive running. A seaman by trade, he helped set up a trade union for dock workers and merchant seamen, his talent as an administrator earning him a role at the 1924 Olympics in Paris, where he was a judge and assistant to the newly-created Athletics Technical Commissioner.

He died in 1925 in Genoa at the age of just 39, having contracted a severe bacterial infection in the days before antibiotics had been discovered.

The Basilica of Sant'Andrea in Vercelli
Travel tip:

Vercelli, where Lunghi won his first Italian track title, a city of around 46,500 inhabitants some 85km (53 miles) west of Milan and about 75km (46 miles) northeast of Turin, is reckoned to be built on the site of one of the oldest settlements in Italy, dating back to 600BC. It is home to numerous Roman relics, the world's first publicly-funded university and the Basilica of Sant'Andrea, which is regarded as one of the most beautiful and best-preserved Romanesque buildings in Italy.

The Porto Antico in Genoa
The Porto Antico in Genoa
Travel tip:

Genoa is Italy's sixth largest city, with an urban population of more than 500,000 and up to 1.5 million living along the coastline.  The city's historic centre consists of numerous squares and narrow alleys, while there are also many fine palaces.  The waterfront area around the Porto Antico has been redeveloped to designs by Renzo Piano as a cultural centre, with the Aquarium and Museum of the Sea now among the city's major tourist attractions.

More reading:

Dorando Pietri and the most famous Olympic disqualication

How Luigi Beccali brought home Italy's first track Gold

Valentina Vezzali - Italy's most decorated female athlete 

Also on this day:

1940: The birth of controversial film maker Bernardo Bertolucci

1978: Italy in shock as Red Brigades kidnap former PM


16 October 2017

Dorando Pietri - marathon runner

Athlete who made his fortune from famous disqualification

Dorando Pietri with the silver cup presented to him by Queen Alexandra
Dorando Pietri with the silver cup
presented to him by Queen Alexandra
The athlete Dorando Pietri, who found fame and fortune after being disqualified in the 1908 Olympic marathon, was born on this day in 1885 in Mandrio, a hamlet near Carpi, in Emilia-Romagna.

In an extraordinary finish to the 1908 race in London, staged on an exceptionally warm July day, Pietri entered the White City Stadium in first place, urged on by a crowd of more than 75,000 who were there to witness the finish, only for his legs to buckle beneath him.

He was helped to his feet by two officials only to fall down four more times before he crossed the finish line.  Each time, officials hauled him to his feet and walked alongside him, urging him on and ready to catch him if he fell.  The final 350 yards (320m) of the event accounted for 10 minutes of the two hours, 54 minutes and 46 seconds recorded as his official time.

Eventually, a second athlete entered the stadium, the American Johnny Hayes, but Pietri had staggered over the line before he could complete the final lap.

The American team was already unpopular with the British crowd, partly because of a row about a flag at the opening ceremony. They lost even more support after they lodged an objection to the result. 

Pietri, a small man of 5ft 2ins who looked older than his 22 years, was hailed for his pluckiness by the White City crowd, who felt he deserved the gold medal.  But the Games organisers were obliged to uphold the American complaint, on the grounds that the Italian had received assistance.

Pietri races ahead of the field in the 2008 Olympic Marathon
Pietri races ahead of the field in
the 1908 Olympic Marathon
The outrage at this decision extended even as far as the British Royal Family.  Queen Alexandra had taken a particular interest in the race, even arranging for the start line, originally set for a street outside Windsor Castle, to be moved inside the castle grounds so that her children could watch. This extended the distance to 26 miles 385 yards, which has remained the official distance for marathons ever since.

Inside the stadium, with the finishing line placed directly in front of the Royal Box, Queen Alexandra is said to have been so thrilled to see Pietri stagger across the line and be acclaimed the winner that she joined the applause of the crowd by banging her umbrella on the floor of the box.

When she learned he had been disqualified, the story goes that she was so disappointed on his behalf that she insisted his efforts be recognised and arranged for a silver and gilt cup to be inscribed, which she presented to him during the closing ceremony.

This gesture caught the public imagination to such a degree that the Daily Mail began a fund for him, which the celebrated author Arthur Conan Doyle, who had been commissioned by the newspaper to write a report of the race, launched by donating five pounds.

The Mail told its readers that money raised would help Pietri, a pastry chef by trade, to open a bakery in Carpi. In the event, the appeal realised £300, which in 1908 was a sum comparable with more than £28,000 today.

Pietri is helped across the line at the finish of the race
Pietri is helped across the line at the finish of the race
With that money and his subsequent earnings as a professional – he was invited to compete in lucrative races all over the world, including a 22-race tour of the United States – he was able eventually to open an hotel.

Apart from making his fortune, cashing in on celebrity status that extended even to having a song written about him by Irving Berlin, Pietri was able to use his American tour to remove any doubt that he was a worthy winner in London.

In a rematch staged over 262 laps of a special track built at Madison Square Garden in New York in November, 2008, in front of a 20,000 crowd, Pietri defeated Johnny Hayes, repeating the win four months later.  In all the Italian won 17 of the 22 races on the tour.

Pietri retired from competition in 1911, after a career lasting just seven years, which had been interrupted by two years of national service.

Sadly, the Grand Hotel Dorando in Carpi was not a success and in time was closed, after which Pietri moved to the Ligurian resort of San Remo, where he ran a taxi business until he died in 1942, having suffered a heart attack.

The Piazza Martiri is Italy's third largest square
The Piazza Martiri is Italy's third largest square
Travel tip:

Carpi, situated 18km (11 miles) north of Modena in the Padana plain, became a wealthy town during the era of industrial development in Italy as a centre for textiles and mechanical engineering. Its historic centre, which features a town hall housed in a former castle, is based around the Renaissance square, the Piazza Martiri, the third largest square in Italy. Italy’s national marathon has finished in Carpi in 1988 in honour of Dorando Pietri, who is also commemorated with a bronze statue by the sculptor Bernardino Morsani, erected in 2008 on the 100th anniversary of the London Olympic marathon, at the junction of Via Ugo da Carpi and Via Cattani, about 2.5km (1.5 miles) from the centre of the town.

Luxury yachts in the harbour at San Remo
Luxury yachts in the harbour at San Remo
Travel tip:

San Remo, the main resort along Liguria’s Riviera dei Fiori – Riviera of Flowers – is a town steeped in old-fashioned grandeur with echoes of its heyday as a health resort in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with broad streets lined with palm trees and luxury villas.  The harbour is still filled with expensive yachts and the casinos attract wealthy clientele. San Remo also has an old town of narrow streets and alleyways and is famous as the home of an annual pop music contest, the Sanremo Festival, where winning is still a considerable career advantage for up-and-coming Italian performers.

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.

More reading: