Famous for not winning

 

There is a time that is particularly remembered for its beauty, whether it is real or fictional. The beginnings of the twentieth century are defined as a bizarre time: on one side the lights of the Belle Epoque, the great boulevards of Paris illuminated, the lights of Victorian London and the teeming life of the great urban conglomerates; on the other side the ghosts of the Great War, which in the following decade would have shake from the foundations of the Western world, triggering the fuse that would bring the facts the next 20 years.

Romagna, a farmer and his sons

During that period, Italy remained a few steps behind the rest of Europe. Not as Milan and Turin, the great northern industrial cities with their hinterland drag like a locomotive the country, but there is an Italy still rural, tied to its traditions, its customs, to its roots. In this context, we introduce Pietri’s family from Correggio. A farmer family, who in 1897 moved to the nearby Carpi where Desiderie opens a fruit and vegetable shop, one of those that you see in the small towns of the Po plain, maybe with the wooden crates in beautiful harvest shows just outside the door, filled in the summer months the joy of nature’s colours with shades of seasonal fruit and vegetables. In that family so there’s a modest guy that fully reflects his humble origins and the effort every day at work. Dorando Pietri is not high, barely touches one meter and sixty cm, and as a young man working as an apprentice in several shops in the city and in his spare time he enjoys with the bike and the foot race. He is so good that it is said to have kept pace Pagliani of Pericles, the top Italy’s runner of early twentieth century.

 From the track fields

Dorando begins his career from the bottom, participating in the first regional competitions and then move on to national championships and then in international competitions abroad, but there is one fact that unites all the events in which he participates: he always wins. He won the Italian title in the 5000 meters and 20 kilometres race, he also won a 30 km race in Paris and established numerous national records over long distances. The consecration arrived in Athens to 1906 Olympic Games, where he qualified in the marathon with 2 hours and 48 minutes time, but he was forced to stop for intestinal problems.

Windsor Castle, 24 July 1908

He qualified for the London 1908 Olympic Games and he was quoted for the final victory. The marathon of Windsor has a big audience: 250 thousand were expected on the streets. Strange climatic conditions: the heat is stifling in the British capital. When the Princess of Wales gave the start to the competition, the athletes of His Majesty had an infernal pace, so Dorando decided to stay in the rear, keeping the energies for the second half of the race; his strategy is detected winning so from twentieth kilometre scaleranking to be just behind the South African Charles Hefferon. He surpassed him and headed to the finish line in the White City stadium. Now imagine that you have just ran over 41 kilometres, you see the finish line tape in front of you and suddenly your sightbecomes blurred. His mouth were totally dry from the heat while the legs began weighting like two blocks of marble. This is what happens to Pietri. He lost again forces and swooned four times. The race stewards help him to get up to cross the finish line but Americans complained so Dorando Pietri was disqualified and the gold medal awarded to Johnny Hayes.

By Alessandra for Dorando

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was in the stands as a correspondent for the Daily Mail and writed “The great Italian story will never be erased from the sports archives, whatever may be the decision of the judges.” There were true words. He received directly from the hands of Queen Victoria a silver cup with a personal dedication for the goal accomplished. Money collection were later organized by the British newspaper Mail to pay him an award and allow him to open a bakery in Carpi. The money raise was a success and were collected three hundred pounds.

In the following years he was invited to Madison Square Garden for a one to one race against Hayes: 262 laps to determine once and for all who is the best on the marathon distance. The two remain even but in the final sprint Dorando Pietri won. His figure is simply a legend, a short man became great due to its tremendous effort and his fallibility as a human being; an example of sacrifice, self-denial and overcoming of human limits. A man in all his frailty and humanity, challenged himself.

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