Held at Rome from August 25 to September 11, 1960 the 17th Summer Olympics were the biggest event of the modern era.
The games signified an extraordinary event for the Italian population.
Though still in black and white, the event was the first to be broadcasted worldwide, marking the beginning of the mass communication era, and in anticipation of the games, a massive number of television sets were diffused.
Rome became an object of radical change, both in its urban structure and in the infrastructures built specifically for the event.
That year, the city was inundated with record numbers of competitors, among them athletes destined to remain in the collective memory of the international community: Ethiopian Abebe Bikila, who won the marathon bare-footed; Cassius Clay (yet to be renamed Mohammed Ali), winner of the boxing’s light-heavyweight competition; and Wilma Rudolph, who won three gold medals to claim the title of “the world’s fastest woman”.
Myriad Italian athletes also achieved greatness at the event, leaving an imprint in the colourful history of Italian sport and in the hearts of the people: boxer Nino Benvenuti; Livio Berruti, who won the 200 metres and double world record, and was famous for running with sunglasses; Raimondo D’Inzeo, gold-medalist in show jumping; and cyclist Sante Gaiardoni, who took home two gold medals.
The year was unforgettable, for both the good and the bad.
On January 2, 1960 Italian cyclist Fausto Coppi died at Tortona at just 41 years of age, after contracting malaria in Africa.
Coppi claimed 110 victories over his career, winning the Giro d’Italia five times and the Tour de France twice.
His achievements saw him renamed the “Campionissimo” or the “champion of all champions”, while he was proclaimed “the athlete of the 20th century”.
Coppi was the best across the board: he dominated in both climbing and time trialling in the “classic” races, and also excelled at sprinting and track racing.
Coppi’s renowned rivalry with his ex-teammate Gino Bartali, alongside his scandalous secret relationship with the “Dama Bianca” (Woman in White), saw him become the icon of the era for reasons far beyond his sporting successes.
The dualism between Coppi and Bartali played a large part in lifting the spirits of a population tragically tested by the events of war, as Italians became avid fans of either the former or the latter.
All of the major competitions of that time were claimed by Coppi, and he was the first cyclist to ever win the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France in the same season.
Coppi often took the title of races long before the finish line, and 67 times he arrived at the end alone.
Many incidents most likely prevented Coppi from winning more races, as the cyclist experienced both moments of difficulty on the track and troubled times in his private life, like the death of his brother Serse.
The whole nation suffered a little inside at the tragic ending of the champion’s tale.
“La sua maglia è biancoceleste, il suo nome Fausto Coppi!” (His jersey is blue and white, his name Fausto Coppi!).