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03 Sep 1960
Rome 1960

Berrutti conquers nerves in 200m to become darling of Rome

A home crowd can inspire any athlete. There are those who find themselves running a little faster, jumping just that bit higher, or throwing a few centimetres further as the positive energy of the crowd pushes them on.

It can also overwhelm, of course, and the history of the Olympic Games is also full of athletes who found the pressure of trying to delight their home supporters to be too much. But when it inspires, when it really inspires, their support can sometimes help produce incredible results.

In the men's 200m, Italy was represented by Livio Berruti, who was midway through studying for a chemistry degree at the time and who cut a distinctive figure in his dark glasses, white socks and with his air of cheerful determination.

Berruti was not a complete unknown. A year earlier, he had beaten the American favourite Ray Norton, and in the first heats in Rome he set the fastest time of 21seconds. Most observers, though, expected Norton to take the title.

In the second heats, Berruti was quicker still, posting a time of 20.8seconds that nobody managed to better. However, the semi-final draw was not kind to him, as he was pitted against three men who had equalled the world record time of 20.5seconds – Norton, the USA's Stone Johnson and Peter Radford of Great Britain.

However, Berruti beat them all, equalling that 20.5second benchmark to earn his place in the 200m final as Radford missed out on qualification from what was a lightning-fast heat, in which France's Paul Genevay finished last in a time of 21.0 seconds, which would have been good enough for third, and a place in the final, if he had been running in the other heat.

Berruti's hot streak was now the talk of Rome, but the nerves were starting to get to him. He couldn't face going down onto the track to warm up, leaving the crowd to wonder what had happened to him. Finally, 15 minutes before the race, he appeared to a roaring ovation.

Berruti ran a fine curve and entered the back straight a metre clear of Johnson, who began to fade. Instead another American, Les Carney, emerged as his closest challenger, but Berruti was in the form of his life and was not to be denied. He crossed the line, fell to the ground and enjoyed the acclaim of the crowd. He was the first runner from outside North America to win the men’s Olympic 200m title.

The cheering went on for five minutes and Berruti was called on to embrace and kiss just about every Italian dignitary in the stadium.

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