Athletics: Italian athletics great Mennea dead

Italian athletics great Pietro Mennea, the gold medal winner in the 200m at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, has died according to ANSA news agency.

Mennea was pronounced dead in a Rome hospital Thursday morning following a long battle with an as yet unnamed incurable disease. He was 60.

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 which stood for nearly two decades.

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.

Mennea, who was affectionately known as the "Arrow of the South" (Freccia del Sud in Italian), announced his retirement in 1983 but went back on his decision to compete and win a 200m bronze at the inaugural World Athletics Championships in Helsinki that same year.

A year later he became the first person to appear in a fourth consecutive 200m Olympic final, at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.

He failed to make the medals and, after yet another retirement, returned to competition in time for the Seoul Games of 1988 where he failed to make the final.

Although known for his exploits, Mennea later admitted to using human growth hormone (HgH) to aid his performances.

At the time HgH was not yet a banned substance.