Carlo Airoldi

Carlo Airoldi was an Italian long distance runner, famous for having walked from Italy to Greece to take part to the Athens 1896 marathon. Airoldi was born on September 21, 1869 in the Italian town of Origgio near Saronno, to a farming family. He began to participate in sporting contests around Varese and later at national and international contests where he outdid his major rival of the time, Louis Ortègue of Marseilles. In 1892 he won in the Lecco-Milano; followed by a victory in the Milano-Torino. He became famous very quickly and was one of the foremost long distance runners of his time. His biggest success was the victory in the Milano-Barcelona (September 1895), a competition in 12 legs over a total of 1050 kilometers, for which he received 2000 Spanish pesetas.

Airoldi wanted to participate in the Athens 1896 Olympic marathon and he had a good chance of victory. He needed money, however, to get to the Greek capital. He sought funding from the director of a well known magazine of the time, "La bicicletta". Airoldi proposed to travel cheaply - he would go on foot through Austria, Turkey and Greece, covering 70 kilometers per day in order to arrive in Athens on time. The magazine was to document all the stages of his adventurous journey and help supply him with the necessary information. The magazine accepted.

The first stage from Milan to Split, passing through Trieste and Fiume, was completed with no problems. Airoldi had intended to pass along the Croatian coast then through Kotor and Corfu. Unfortunately, before arriving at Dubrovnik he fell and got hurt and was forced to spend two days in a tent. He was then advised against crossing Albania on foot so he boarded a boat that took him to Patras from where he continued to Athens on foot following the railway lines as there were no roads.

After his 28-day journey Airoldi was unfortunately not able to compete in the Athens 1896 marathon. He went to the royal palace to sign up for the competition but the head of the Olympic Committee decided that the money Airoldi received for winning the Milano-Barcelona race made him a professional athlete and thus not eligible to compete. Telegrams were sent from Italy but nothing worked: Airoldi was not accepted. Italians believed that the organizers were not allowing a strong competitor to take part in a race that the Greeks wanted to win. Airoldi never agreed with the decision and issued a challenge to Spiridon Louis - the winner of the Athens 1896 marathon - that was never taken up. On his return home, Airoldi attempted many times to beat the record of Spiridon Louis without ever succeeding. He continued to race mainly in Lombardy and Switzerland, where he was married and worked. Finally he moved to South America to seek his fortune. Aroldi died back in Milano, Italy on June 18, 1929.

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