" Charlotte who?" said the operator.
Between them, they decided his girl must live in Charlotte Center in upstate New York. Switching operators, he tried again. "Nobody lives there," the operator said. "It's a place people drive through. Maybe you want the Charleston Coast Guard Station. Is your girl in the Coast Guard?" That night Fiasconaro sadly told Miler Marty Liquori that his girl lived in a place that did not exist.
" Charlotte, New York?" said Liquori. "The only Charlotte I ever heard of is in North Carolina."
"That's it!" said Fiasconaro. "I made a little mistake. I'll go call her now." In North Carolina it was 2 a.m.
Meanwhile, Franken and Coach Banner were negotiating the distance of Saturday night's race. It was Banner, Scottish-born but now one of South Africa's top business executives, who discovered Fiasconaro's track talents in 1970. Banner was coaching a team in Capetown called the Celtic Harriers, and it had nowhere to run. Fiasconaro was playing rugby for a team called the Villagers, which was building a new athletic complex in the same city. Banner suggested that the clubs combine; the rugby players could run track in the off-season to stay in shape. The forces were joined.
Then 20, Fiasconaro entered a 100-meter race as a lark and won in 11 seconds flat. Next he ran 200 meters in 23.6. Three months later he ran his first 400 in 48.5. "I could see the tremendous potential," says Banner.
So could the Italians. In 1971, just before the European Championships, they invited Fiasconaro to compete for Italy. He was qualified; his father, an opera singer, was in the Italian air force during World War II and was shot down over North Africa. He took three bullets in his back, one of which is still there. Captured, he was taken to a POW camp in South Africa.
"When the war ended, they sent the prisoners home," said Fiasconaro. "But my father got a hernia. He stayed for an operation, met my mother and today he is the director of music and opera at the University of Capetown."
Before he turned 21, Fiasconaro was given a choice of citizenship: Italian or South African. "It was hard," he says. "I'm a South African and I love my country, but there would be no South African team in the Olympics."
At his father's urging, he decided to compete for Italy. Some South Africans, especially the conservative Afrikaners, did not like it. One newspaper called him a traitor. But he went to Italy, was issued a passport and began learning the language. "The only Italian I had ever heard was when my father was swearing at me," he says. "And he never translated." Two weeks later Fiasconaro won the 400 in the Italian national championships. But at Munich he never reached the qualifying heats; he was sidelined by a stress fracture in his left foot.