The Italian gold medallist who set an Olympic record for standing still

In October 1964, Tokyo hosted their first Olympic Games. To celebrate, Tokyo 2020 will bring you some of the most incredible and historic moments that took place 56 years ago. In the latest part of the series, we take a look at track cyclist Giovanni Pettenella's bizarre record that he set before achieving glory.

The background

Giovanni Pettenella was born in 1943 in the small town of Caprino Veronese, located between Milan and Venice in northern Italy.

As a child he moved to Milan to pursue a career in a sport that was far removed from what he would eventually participate in at the Olympic Games.

He played football for a local club, in the same city where AC and Inter Milan had already become two of the most famous teams in the world.

However, Pettenella’s father, who had once been an amateur cyclist, suggested that he give cycling a try - at first for fun, but eventually for competition. They even struck a deal that if Pettenella won one of the three races he was set to compete in, he would carry on riding.

"I won the third one in Ronago [near Lake Como] finishing uphill. It was unbelievable but I felt good going uphill," recalled Pettenella during an interview with Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport.

It was the beginning of a cycling career that would reach its peak at the Olympic Games Tokyo 1964, where he competed in two events: the sprint and the 1,000m time trial.

The moment

His first race was the time trial, where he won a silver medal in 1:10.09, finishing behind Belgian rider Patrick Sercu.

The next day was the men’s sprint competition, involving at least five rounds against three riders up until the last 16, then a series of one-on-one races up until the final, without taking into account the repechage.

As noted in La Gazzetta dello Sport, Pettenella considered himself to be a great strategist and if his opponent wanted to "start the sprint in the lead position, he would go first" but if he wanted to stay behind, Pettenella would "stand still in order to avoid being behind".

This is exactly the strategy Pettenella employed during the semi-final of the men’s sprint competition when up against France's Pierre Trentin.

As nobody wanted to take the lead, the Italian rider and his French rival slowed to an eventual standstill - where they remained for 21 minutes and 57 seconds. An Olympic record.

Eventually, the pair resumed racing with Pettenella winning the duel to reach the final, where he claimed gold by beating his compatriot Sergio Bianchetto.


What happened next

After the Tokyo 1964 Games, Pettenella turned professional and began competing in road races.

He won two stages of the UCI World Tour Tirreno-Adriatico road race, clinched bronze at the 1968 Track Cycling World Championships in the men’s sprint event and also broke a new a world record.

During the semi-final of the 1968 Italian Cycling Championships Pettenella one again faced off against Bianchetto - the same rider he had beaten in the final of Tokyo 1964.

Bianchetto refused to take the lead, so Pettenella stood still on the track... for one hour, five minutes and five seconds.

Pettenella retired in 1975 and began working for the track cycling national team as a technical commissioner, helping the team win gold at the 1976 World Championships.

He passed away in 2010, at the age of 66.