Italian sport mourns Sante Gaiardoni, the only Italian to win two gold medals at the Rome '60 Olympics, in the standing kilometer and in the sprint, protagonist of world cycling throughout the following decade. The champion died last night near Milan, where he had soon moved from Villafranca di Verona, where he was born on June 29, 1939.
The capital and the Lombard capital were the symbolic places of the extraordinary career of the sprinter and pistard, also hinged on the great rivalry with the Milanese Antonio Maspes, who became a great friend. So were many faces of show business - such as Walter Chiari and Maurizio Arena, who celebrated their second Olympic title with him on a legendary night in Via Veneto -, for a life of toil and sweat but always lived in the spotlight, in the years of the Dolce Vita, especially after his marriage in 1963 with the singer Elsa Quarta. Gaiardoni had begun his career in the tandem, winning the Italian title in 1957 and 1958, achieving consecration and fame in the Olympic Games on his home soil: on August 26 in the standing kilometer and three days later, in a historic encore, in the sprint.
A day of glory, that 29th of August, which he ended in Via Veneto, confused in the crowd, with Arena and Chiari who celebrated him in Roman style with the cry of: "Gaiardò! Gaiardò! Gaiardò!" The following year he turned professional, winning the 1963 Rocourt World Championship, at the end of a heated challenge with Antonio Maspes, his eternal rival among the pros. His successful career came to an end after he won the silver medal at the World Championships in Leicester in 1970. The world of Gaiardoni and Maspes was above all that of velodromes, which in those years, from the Vigorelli in Milan to the Rome circuit, up to the great arenas in France, Germany and Belgium, were places of sport and meeting, betting and intrigue, which culminated in the legendary Six Days.
The rivalry between Gaiardoni and Maspes unfolded throughout Europe and divided fans in Italy, almost as heated as the previous one between Coppi and Bartali, while the children of the time competed on the beach and in the courtyards for plastic marbles with photos of those champions. A friendship was born between the Venetian and the Milanese even stronger than the rivalry, so much so that the death of Maspes in 2000, at the age of 68, was a real blow for Gaiardoni: "I often spent evenings and Sundays there, talking about cycling and young athletes - he said that day -, remembering the challenges. A piece of my life is gone with Antonio."
After his retirement, the champion opened a bicycle shop at Giambellino, in the now 'his' Milan, where he was always committed to the development of the use of pedal two-wheelers, so much so that he made it one of the cornerstones of his program when he ran for mayor in the 2006 elections, won by Letizia Moratti. A small disappointment, but one that was foreseen, very different from the strong regret that was for him, years later, the demolition of the Olympic velodrome at Eur, where he had made the history of Italian sport: "It's a punch in the heart," he said. As Gaiardoni's death is in some ways for all of Italian sport. "A unique pistard, a champion who since Rome '60 has rightfully been in the Olympus of sport," says the president of CONI, Giovanni Malagò, who in 2015 awarded him the Golden Collar for sporting merit.
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