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Athletics: IAAF leads tributes to sprinting icon Mennea

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(GlobalPost/GlobalPost)

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) led the tributes pouring in on Thursday following the death of Italian track and field great Pietro Mennea at the age of 60.

The iconic sprinter passed away after a long battle with illness following a glittering career that hit several peaks, notably his Olympic 200m winning run at the 1980 Moscow Olympics and a world record in 1979 that stood for 17 years.

"It was with great sadness that the IAAF received the news that Italian sprinting legend Pietro Mennea passed away this morning at a hospital in Rome after a long battle with illness," read a statement on the IAAF website.

"The IAAF mourns his loss and offers its deepest and sincerest condolences to his family and friends."

Other tributes from politicians, sporting figures and fans underlined the popularity of the athlete and the impact he had not only in his homeland but on the world of athletics.

"The whole of Puglia is in mourning," said Onofrio Introna, the regional council president of the southern Italian region of Puglia where Mennea was born and raised.

"I want to express my sincere condolences and those of the whole assembly for a loss which makes us all the more poor," he continued.

"Pietro flew down the track. He seemed smaller than he was, 1.80 metres tall, when black and white televisions provided the first images of this boy from southern Italy, all power, determination and anger.

"He is someone who will never be forgotten."

Italy football coach Cesare Prandelli said the team will wear black armbands in an international friendly against Brazil to be played in Geneva later Thursday.

"I never had the pleasure of meeting him but I remember when his third place (in the 200m at the 1972 Olympics, behind Valery Borzov and Larry Black) started it all off," said Prandelli.

"Here was this white Italian, competing in an event dominated by black athletes or the great athletes from the East, like Borzov.

"He had determination and a strong will to succeed."

A 14-time outdoor Italian champion in his preferred events of the 100m and 200m, Mennea was perhaps best known for setting a world record of 19.72sec in Mexico City in 1979.

It beat the previous record set by American Tommie Smith, and remained unbeaten for 17 years - until it was bettered by another US sprint great, Michael Johnson, in 1996.

The following year Mennea went to the Moscow Olympics as the favourite for the 200m, especially given the absence of US athletes due to the American boycott to protest Russia's invasion of Afghanistan.

Although he only reached the semi-finals of the 100m, the Italian edged ahead of Scotland's Allan Wells in the final metres of the home straight to take a stunning gold in the 200m.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130321/athletics-iaaf-leads-tributes-sprinting-icon-mennea