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06 Aug 1984
Los Angeles 1984

Cova walks the walk

African nations have dominated longer distance running events at the Olympic Games in recent times, but in the early 1980s their stranglehold wasn’t quite as vice-like as it is today.

Only Ethiopia of the continent’s powerhouses was missing because of the boycott at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles yet only six Africans made it to the final at the Memorial Coliseum. Compare that to 12 years later when the first eight in Atlanta hailed from Africa.

The lack of focused African pace-making meant the race would inevitably boil down to who had the fastest finish, and within the qualifiers for the final there was an absolute master of the 11th hour kick for the line.

Italian Alberto Cova burst onto the international scene when he beat East Germany’s Werner Schildhauer by half a yard after a trademark late dash for the line at the 1982 European Championships in Athens.

He repeated the trick to become the inaugural world champion at the distance the following year in Helsinki, Schildhauer again the unlucky man to see the flying Italian surge past in the dying moments.

With East German Schildhauer absent, there was no clear rival to Cova who just sat back as a race of modest pace played out in Los Angeles.

Rangey Finn Martti Vainio tried to break Cova’s kick by going for home over 3500m out but as Cova kept the Scandinavian in his sights there was only going to be one winner.

Cova cut him down in the final 200m and thrust his arms towards the sky as he became the first Italian to win the event in the history of the modern Games.

He won a silver at the Europeans in Stuttgart two years later and retired from international competition soon after he failed to qualify for the final of the Seoul Games of 1988.

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