Early yesterday morning I got a text message telling me that Antonio Pettigrew had been found dead. As the day progressed details began to fill in. He was in his car. Involved an overdose of sleeping pills.
As I read the various articles that came out over the course of the day, I almost came to believe that Pettigrew had a short athletic career that began and ended with the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Because almost everything that was written detailed his admission of doping between that season, and how he and his teammates were stripped of their relay medals from the Sydney Olympics as a result.
But I remember Pettigrew long before 2000, because he was a mainstay of US international squads long before that. As a matter of fact he ran 44.27 as far back as 1989 when he was the world leader on the clock over all time greats Butch Reynolds (44.30), Danny Everett (44.36), and Steve Lewis (44.47) among others.
He would win a National title in 1991 in 44.36 and go on to win the World Championships gold medal in Tokyo in 44.57 defeating British great Roger Black (44.62), Danny Everett (44.63) and Cuban great Roberto Hernandez (44.86). The following season would see Michael Johnson begin his string of title runs in the event, so there was no more individual gold for Pettigrew, but he was a member of gold medal relay squads in Athens ‘97 (43.1 split), Seville ‘99 (43.8 split), as well as the oft mentioned team of Sydney.
He was consistently among the world’s top 400 men throughout his career with season’s bests of 44.71 (‘92), 44.45 (‘93), 44.43 (‘94), 44.23 (‘97), 44.40 (‘98), and 44.21 (‘99) before the 2000 season (44.57). So unfortunately while many will remember the negative note that his career ended on, there was much success long before the end. My recollection of the positive aspects of his career is not to dismiss the negative, but to remind that he was as any man with both positive and negative in his life – and in this case his career.
My heart goes out to those he left behind – his wife Cassandra, and son Antonio Jr. May he rest in peace.