Dorando Pietri, often wrongly spelled Petri (October 16, 1885 - February 7, 1942) was an Italian athlete famous for his dramatic finish and eventual disqualification in the marathon at the 1908 Summer Olympics held in London.
Pietri was born in Mandrio, a frazione of Correggio, but spent his youth in Carpi (Emilia-Romagna region). Here he worked as shop-boy in confectionery. He was 1.59 meters tall. In September 1904 the most famous Italian runner of the time, Pericle Pagliani, took part in a race in Carpi. According to tradition, Pietri was attracted by the event and, still wearing his work clothes, ran to the finish ahead of Pagliani. A few days later Pietri dĂ©buted in a distance race, finishing second in the 3,000 meters of Bologna. The following year he achieved his first international success, winning the 30 km in Paris. On April 2, 1906 Pietri won the qualifying marathon for the Olympics Games to be held in Athens that same year. In the Olympic race he retired due to intestinal illness when he was leading by 5 minutes. In 1907 he won the Italian championships. He was by then the undisputed leader of Italian long distance races from 5000 metres to marathon distance.
Dorando Pietri trained hard for the 1908 Olympics in London. In a race in Carpi he ran 40 km in 2 hours and 38 minutes, an extraordinary result for the times. The London marathon measured 42.195 kilometers, a distance which became official from 1921. Fifty-six racers started, including Pietri and fellow Italian Umberto Blasi. The day was unusually hot by British standards and the race was started at 14.33 on July 24, 1908. Pietri began his race at a rather slow pace, but in the second half began a powerful surge moving him into second position by the 32 kilometer mark, four minutes behind South African Charles Hefferon. When he knew that Hefferon was in crisis, Pietri further increased his pace, overtaking him at the 39 kilometer mark. The effort took its toll and with only two kilometres to go, Pietri began to feel the effects of extreme fatigue and dehydration. When he entered the stadium, he took the wrong path and when umpires redirected him, he fell down for the first time. He got up with their help, in front of 75,000 trembling spectators. He fell four more times, and every time was helped up by the umpires. In the end, though totally exhausted, he managed to finish the race in first place. Of his total time of 2 hours 54 minutes 46 seconds, ten minutes were needed for that last 350 metres.
Second was American Johnny Hayes. The American team immediately lodged a complaint against the help Pietri received from the umpires. The complaint was accepted and Pietri was disqualified and removed from the final standings of the race. Pietri's feat touched all the spectators of the stadium. As a compensation for the missing medal, Queen Alexandra gave him a gilded silver cup: an award proposed by the writer Arthur Conan Doyle who, according to some sources, was the megaphone bearer who supported Pietri at the finish line.
Pietri suddenly became an international celebrity. Composer Irving Berlin dedicated a song to him entitled â€śDorandoâ€ť and Pietri received requests to participate in exhibition races in the United States. On November 25, 1908, in Madison Square Garden, New York a race between Hayes and Pietri was organized. Pietri won the race as well as a second similar race on March 15, 1909. Pietri won 17 of the 22 races on his tour of America. He returned to Italy in May 1909 and continued racing professionally in his native country and abroad for two more years. His last marathon was in Buenos Aires, on May 24, 1910, where he achieved his personal best of 2 hours 38 minutes 48:2 seconds. Pietri's last race in Italy was a 15 km race held in Parma on September 3, 1911, which he won. He also won his very last race this time in GĂ¶teborg (Sweden), in October of the same year. He was 26 at the time.
In three years as professional runner he earned 200,000 lire in prize money alone, an enormous sum for the time. He invested these earnings in a hotel he opened in collaboration with his brother.
As entrepreneur he wasn't as successful as he was as an athlete and the hotel went bankrupt. He moved to Sanremo, where he directed a car workshop. Pietri lived in Sanremo until his death, of a heart attack, at the age of 56.