Former Olympic champion Pietro Mennea, whose 200 metres world record lasted more than 16 years, has died in a Rome clinic at the age of 60, the Italian Olympic Committee announced on Thursday (March 21st).

'Italian sport is in mourning', the committee wrote on its website, announcing the death of the Barletta-born sprinter known as the 'Arrow of the South' after an unspecified illness.

Mennea's 200 metre world record of 19.72 seconds, set at altitude in Mexico City at the 1979 World Student Games, remained unbeaten for 16 years nine months and 11 days and is still the European record.

He won gold at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, beating Britain's Alan Wells in a time of 20.19; he also won a 4x400 relay bronze. Mennea later admitted using human growth hormone, which was not banned at the time.

The Italian completed his doctorate in political science just two weeks before the Games and later served as a member of the European Parliament.

He competed in five Olympics between 1972 and 1988, appearing in four consecutive 200 finals and winning bronze in Munich in 1972.

Italian Olympic Committee President Giovanni Malago said Mennea's body would lie in state at the organisation's Rome headquarters.

Malago also called for commemorations at all Italian sporting events until Sunday.

Presented by Adam Justice