Italian race walker Annarita Sidoti (Getty Images) © Copyright
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1997 world race walking champion Sidoti dies

The IAAF is deeply saddened to learn that Anna Rita Sidoti, the 1997 world 10,000m race walking champion, died on Wednesday (20) after battling breast cancer. She was 45 years old.

Born in Sicily in 1969, Sidoti’s talent for race walking was discovered at an early age. Coached throughout her career by Tyndaris Pattese and Salvatore Coletta, Sidoti’s first international success came at the age of 20 when she took bronze in the 3000m race walk at the 1990 European Indoor Championships.

Later that year, she struck gold over the 10km distance at the European Championships in Split, becoming the first Italian woman to win a gold medal in a race walking event at a major outdoor championships.

Her second continental title came four years later when she won the 3000m race walk at the 1994 European Indoor Championships in Paris. She made it on to the podium again at the European Championships later that year, taking silver over 10km.

In 1995 she set her first national record, clocking 20:21.69 for the 5000m distance. She ended that season by winning the World University Games 10km title, and in 1996 she triumphed at the inaugural European Cup Race Walking.

But her greatest success came in 1997. She was only added to the Italian team for the IAAF World Championships as a reserve, but the diminutive 4ft 11in (1.50m) figure of Sidoti led the 10,000m race walk from the second kilometre onwards, winning by more than half a minute in 42:55.49 and becoming the smallest world champion in athletics history.

One year later, she regained her European title over 10km. It was to be the last time that the shorter race walking distance would be contested at a major championships; from then on, it moved up to 20km.

After failing to finish the 20km at the 1999 World Championships and 2000 Olympics, she finally got to grips with the distance in 2001 and finished eighth at that year’s World Championships. She repeated that position one year later at the European Championships, having won her 10th national title just four months prior.

She finished third in her final race in 2003, over 5000m; the distance at which she held the Italian record. Five weeks later, her record was finally broken by 1996 Olympic silver medallist Elisabetta Perrone.

Sidoti remains the only Italian woman to have won race walking titles at the World Championships, European Championships, European Indoor Championships or European Cup.

After retiring from competitive athletics, she became a Councillor for Sports in her municipality, San Giorgio di Gioiosa Marea.

In 2009, while pregnant with her third child, doctors discovered a tumour. She battled the disease for several years but it spread to her liver and her brain.

“Today is a sad day for Italian athletics,” said Alfio Giomi, president of the Italian athletics federation (FIDAL). “The medals she won form the history of our sport, but at this time we must remember Anna Rita as a person. Her determination, her tenacity and that smile that lit up her face and entered the hearts of everyone.

“I was lucky enough to be head of the Italian delegation when she won her European titles in Split and in Budapest. The image of her waving a huge tricolor flag, full of joy, is a memory which moves me deeply at this moment.”

Fellow Italian race walkers paid tribute to Sidoti on social media.

National 20km record-holder Eleonora Giorgi tweeted: “Goodbye Anna Rita, it was nice meeting you, a champion of sport and life. You will always be in my heart.”

Elisa Rigaudo, the 2008 Olympic 20km bronze medallist, tweeted: “Goodbye, Anna Rita. You were a great example for me, first in sports and later in life. I’ll never forget you.”

Sidoti leaves behind her husband Peter and their three children, Federico, Edoardo and Alberto.