Pietro MenneaSadly, the BBC website reports that Pietro Mennea, 1980 Moscow Olympic 200 metre champion, and the 200 m world record holder for 17 years (with a time of 19.72, set in September 1979) has just died, far too young, at the age of 60. Only eight athletes have recorded a better time over 200 metres than Mennea’s world record, which still remains the current European record. In Italy Mennea was nicknamed the Freccia del Sud (the Southern Arrow), after the express train connecting Milan and Messina. I remember Mennea beating Scotsman Allan Wells for the gold in Moscow, hauling him in and edging him out by 0.02 seconds (you can see a clip of it on Mennea’s website – link above). It seems strange to relate now, but there was an exoticism about such a successful Italian track star at a time when the Cold War rivals were still mostly dominant. In later life Mennea was a Member of the European Parliament (1999-2004) and I knew him a little then, as he naturally gravitated to the Cultural Affairs Committee (also responsible for sport), my primary parliamentary interlocuter in those days. I remember a quiet, polite, distinguished gentleman with a receding silver hair line and an immediately recognisable smile. I got a big thrill out of shaking the hand of and talking to one of the fastest men on earth, for that was what he had been. It wasn’t the ‘done thing’ to ask for an autograph but I rather regret that I didn’t.