(Reuters) - Former Olympic champion Pietro Mennea, whose 200 meters world record lasted more than 16 years, has died in a Rome clinic at the age of 60, the Italian Olympic Committee CONI said on Thursday.
“Italian sport is in mourning,” it said on its website (www.coni.it), announcing the death of the Barletta-born sprinter - known as the ‘Arrow of the South’ - after an incurable illness.
Mennea won gold at the boycotted 1980 Moscow Olympics, as well as a 4x400 relay bronze. He later admitted using human growth hormone, which was not banned at the time, during his career.
The 200 meters world record of 19.72 seconds set at altitude in Mexico City at the 1979 World Student Games remained unbeaten for 16 years nine months and 11 days and is still the European record.
Michael Johnson finally broke the mark with a time of 19.66 at the 1996 U.S. Olympic trials. The American then took gold at that year’s Atlanta games in 19.32.
Johnson’s record stood for a further 12 years before Jamaican Usain Bolt, now a six-times Olympic gold medalist, claimed it with a time of 19.30 at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and reduced it to 19.19 in Berlin in 2009.
In the 1980 Olympic 200 final, Mennea beat Britain’s Alan Wells for the gold in a time of 20.19.
The Italian, who had completed his doctorate in political science just two weeks before the Games, competed in five Olympics between 1972 and 1988 and appeared in four consecutive 200 finals.
CONI president Giovanni Malago said Menna’s body would lie in state at the organization’s Rome headquarters.
A minute’s silence will be held before a soccer friendly between Italy and Brazil in Geneva later on Thursday while CONI ordered flags to be flown at half-mast at all sporting events until Sunday.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Clare Fallon and John Mehaffey