Paola Pigni of Italy during the 1972 Olympic Games 1500m in Munich (© Getty Images)
World Athletics is deeply saddened to hear that Italian middle distance star Paola Pigni – who won an Olympic bronze and two world cross country titles during her highly successful athletics career – died on Friday (11) at the age of 75.
A trailblazer in women’s middle distance running, Pigni set 1500m and mile world records in the late 1960s and early 70s and revised the Italian records over a range of distances numerous times.
Born in Milan on 30 December 1945, Pigni began her career as a sprinter but moved up to middle distance events and found her forte. In July 1969 she ran 4:12.4 for 1500m at the Notturna Meeting in Milan to improve the world record by more than three seconds.
In 1970 she won the International Cross Country Championships in Vichy, an event which was replaced by the World Cross Country Championships, and Pigni’s two world titles were claimed in 1973 and 1974, the second while racing under her married name of Paola Cacchi.
It was in Munich in 1972 that Pigni claimed her Olympic bronze, improving the Italian record in all three rounds with times of 4:09.53, 4:07.83 and 4:02.85, which would remain her PB.
Pigni, who was coached by her husband Bruno Cacchi, represented Italy on 33 occasions and won a total of 19 senior national titles. In 2019 she was among the great milers to congregate in Monaco for the World Athletics Heritage Mile Night to celebrate the classic middle distance event.
Paola Pigni, John Walker, Filbert Bayi and Sebastian Coe at the 2019 World Athletics Heritage Mile Night in Monaco (© Philippe Fitte)
“She was the forerunner of our middle distance champions,” said Stefano Mei, president of the Italian Athletics Federation. “A bronze medal at the Munich Olympic Games in 1972 which had an enormous impact. It was worth gold because at that time women's sport was not yet as developed as it is today.
“She was the pioneer of great athletics, an example for many athletes, both of her generation and subsequently. We will certainly find a way to honour her memory.”