Stefano Baldini breaks the tape in Athens (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News Milan, Italy

Baldini, Italian Marathon legend, retires – A look back

Stefano Baldini, the Olympic Marathon champion in Athens 2004, has decided to hang up his running shoes ending a glorious career.

It was the end of a long road which started in 1980 when his older brothers invited the then nine-year-old Baldini to join their running group, paving the way to his successful career. At that time the best runner in the large Baldini family with eleven siblings was his elder brother Marco who ran a PB of 2:16 over the Marathon distance. During his career Baldini ran about 180,000 kilometres in both training and competition covering a distance which is four and a half times as long as the earth’s circumference.

Baldini originally planned to end his career at the Giro al Sas 10 km road race on 9 October but an injury forced him to pull out of the Trento race. The Italian star made a special lap of honour to say goodbye to his fans and friends before the popular race won by 5000m Olympic bronze medallist Edwin Soi. The Giro al Sas has alwaws been one of Baldini’s favourite races. “I thank Gianni Demadonna, the man who guided me throughout my international career. I ran the Giro al Sas twelve times and won three times, in 2002, 2004 and 2006. I still remember the great enthusiasm when I ran this race in 2004 after my Olympic win in Athens.”

During a special lunch in Milan last week Baldini had the chance to thank the athletics world for its support during his very long career.

Thanks to coaches Benati and Gigliotti

“I am sad to end my career at 39 but it’s the right time. Perhaps I stayed a bit too long but nobody was able to beat me in Italy. I could have ended it after Beijing but I made the decision to continue for two more years well aware of all risks.”

“I want to thank my first coach Emilio Benati who spotted me and guided me until 1992 when he could not train me any more due to professional reasons and advised me to join the group of coach Luciano Gigliotti. I was lucky to meet the right persons who followed me step by step during my career.”

“Under the guidance of Gigliotti I made a lot of changes and I started attending the training camps run by the Italian Federation in Tirrenia where I learnt a lot from training with Italian top runners Francesco Panetta and Alessandro Lambruschini and I realized that I could emerge as a marathon runner.”

Lucio Gigliotti won two Olympic Marathon gold medals with Gelindo Bordin in Seoul 1988 and Baldini in Athens 2004. “Gigliotti did a great job by adapting his training methods to the different characteristics of his athletes. He realized that I was not Gelindo Bordin and tailored for me a different suit. This is the secret which explains the success of Gigliotti,” said Baldini.

1996 World Half Marathon title was ‘key to success’

Baldini made his debut over the 42.195 km distance in October 1995 at the Venice Marathon where he finished sixth in 2:11:01. One year later he won the IAAF World Half Marathon title in Palma de Malorca. “The World Half Marathon title was very important for my career because it made me aware that the marathon was my distance. 1996 was a key season in my career.”

He took part in 27 marathons from 1995 to 2010. The true highlights of his career were the Olympic gold medal in Athens 2004, his two European gold medals in Budapest 1998 and Gothenburg 2006, two World bronze medals in Edmonton 2001 and Paris 2003, the World Half Marathon title in Palma de Malorca 1996 and his two Italian records set in London in 2002 (2:07:29) and 2006 (2:07:22). He took part in nine editions of the London Marathon where he finished second twice - in 1997 (2:07:57) and in 2003 (2:07:56).

“Apart from my Athens triumph my biggest result was my first Italian record in 2002 when I ran alone from the fifth km without any help. If I have to choose a Marathon race I pick Rome because of its fantastic course,” recalls Baldini.

Plans to remain involved in athletics world

This summer’s European Championships in Barcelona, where he dropped out of the race, was the last big championships marathon in his career. “I probably made the mistake to run in 2009 without a real goal to pursue but I have no regrets. I was lucky to win the Olympic title in Athens at the age of 33. This probably helped me to enjoy more what I achieved. If I had won the Olympic gold at 20, I would not have probably managed to cope with the pressure and the burden of popularity of an Olympic title.”

Baldini said he will remain involved in the athletics world. “I will work for some companies for whom I have contributed for some years.”

Asked about what surprised him more during a 20 year career, Baldini said: “The first thing which impressed me more is the impact of Africa on the world of running. When I started running Africa began its dominance. The African runners have now taken over the distance running scene. Secondly, I am surprised by myself and what I managed to do. I have always been a gifted athlete but at the beginning I would never have imagined to reach what I achieved. I ran in a great era for marathon running and I managed to compete against strong rivals like Jouhad Gharib and Paul Tergat.”

Marathon running is becoming very competitive and 2:04-2:05 times are the standard to win the biggest marathons. “I was impressed by Patrick Makau’s 2:05:08 race in Berlin. He seemed to stroll for most of the race and launch his final kick. Bazu Worku is a very interesting runner because he is still young. They represent the future of marathon running.”

Representing Italy was always top priority

Baldini was called the “God of Marathon” on the front page title of the Italian popular sport daily Gazzetta dello Sport the day after his Athens triumph, but the Italian athletics legend has always remained a nice and simple guy who was loved by sport fans for his determination and his dedication to achieve his goals through hard work. He has always honoured the big championships races where medals are at stake.

“I will always remember every win in my career because each race has played an important part in my career. I am lucky not only because I achieved all my goals. I took unusual and courageous decisions which almost always turned out to be successful. I joined the Fiamme Oro military team but I left it soon when I realized that I could achieve great results also with the help of the Corradini Rubiera company for which I was employed part time. They enabled me to pursue my athletics career.”

Italian athletics will miss Baldini as a marathon runner but will gain his experience as a former runner. “I will work with the Italian Athletics Federation FIDAL. I am one of the three Tutors of the Project London 2012 launched by FIDAL last year to closely monitor the careers of the best young Italian athletes on the road to London 2012. I am grateful to FIDAL for their great support since the start of my international career. I have always given my priority to international championships and to the National team vest.”

“I want to offer my advice by passing on my experience to the future generation of athletes. There are some good runners in Italy, like Daniele Meucci (European bronze medal in the 10,000m in Barcelona) and Andrea Lalli but I have no heirs at the moment. The competition from African runners is now very hard.”

Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF