Olympic champion sprinter Pietro Mennea dies

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ROME -- Pietro Mennea, an Olympic sprint champion from Italy who held the world record in the 200 meters for 17 years, died Thursday. He was 60.

The Italian Olympic Committee said Mennea died in a Rome clinic. No cause of death was given.

Mennea won gold in the 200 and bronze in the 4x400 relay at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, plus a bronze in the 200 at the 1972 Munich Games.

Mennea set the 200 world record of 19.72 seconds on Sept. 12, 1979, at the World University Games at high altitude in Mexico City. He broke Tommie Smith's record of 19.83, set on the same track at the 1968 Olympics.

Mennea's record stood until Michael Johnson ran 19.66 on June 23, 1996, at the U.S. Olympic trials. Johnson lowered the mark to 19.32 at the Atlanta Olympics later that year.

"I never thought for a minute it would last that long," Mennea said in a 1996 interview with The Associated Press. "I didn't even think at the time I had run that fast." Usain Bolt holds the current 200 record of 19.19, set at the 2009 world championships in Berlin.

Mennea also won four golds at European championships -- three outdoor and one indoor -- plus a silver and a bronze at world championships. He still holds the European and Italian records in the 200.

CONI president Giovanni Malago said Mennea's body would lie in state at Olympic committee headquarters and that a minute's silence will be held at all sports events in the country through Sunday.

Italy's national soccer team planned to wear black armbands for Thursday's exhibition match against Brazil in Geneva, with a minute's silence to be observed.

After his track career, Mennea worked as a lawyer, sports agent and as a member of the European Parliament. He didn't spend much time reminiscing about his days as a sprinter, at one point publishing a book on sports law.

"It would have been easier for me to write about how to run the 200 meters, but I have moved on," he said in the 1996 interview.

More recently, Mennea was an outspoken critic of Rome's plans to bid for the 2020 Olympics, before Premier Mario Monti withdrew government support.

"We're a nation devastated by a scary economic crisis. How could we think about proposing something like this now?" Mennea said in an interview with Corriere della Sera early last year. "Zero-cost Olympics don't exist. The real priorities of the country lie elsewhere."

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