A hurdle that encourages world records!

In Barcelona, Kevin Young clocked 46.78s to set a World record. Moses had set the previous record at 47.02s in Koblenz, Germany, in 1983. Between 1968 and 1992 four of the seven finals in the 400m hurdles produced World records.


Kevin Young (left), the winner of the men's 400m hurdles with a world record time of 46.78 seconds, in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.   -  the hindu photo library

Three editions after Edwin Moses set a World record to claim the 400m hurdles gold in Montreal, another World record was set in that event at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Kevin Young, the 26-year-old American, who had finished fourth in the previous edition, hit the front by the fifth hurdle and from then on it was smooth hurdling. Young clocked 46.78s, the only sub-47-sec timing to date in athletics history. In his Olympic Village room in Barcelona Young had the inscription on the wall “46.89”! Moses had set the previous record at 47.02s in Koblenz, Germany, in 1983. Between 1968 and 1992 four of the seven finals in the 400m hurdles produced world records.

Fermin Cacho was the slowest Olympic 1500m winner in 36 years. But his speed on the home straight produced a surprise result in Barcelona to the delight of the thousands of Spaniards who thronged the Olympic stadium. Noureddine Morceli of Algeria was the overwhelming favourite, but Cacho kicked hard from 250 metres for a fabulous finish. Morceli could manage only the seventh place. Rachid El Basir of Morocco took silver and Mohamed Suleiman won for Qatar its first Olympic medal, the bronze. Cacho won in 3:40.12.

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At 32 years, Linford Christie was only into his second Olympics. He had put in his best in the 100m in Seoul but could only get third (upgraded to second following Ben Johnson’s disqualification). World record holder Carl Lewis had not qualified from the US trials this time, and that meant Leroy Burrell and Dennis Mitchell were the main American challengers. As it turned out Namibia’s Frankie Fredericks was the Briton’s closest rival, taking the silver in 10.02 to Christie’s 9.96s. Christie became the oldest sprinter to win the short dash in the Olympics.

Going into the Barcelona Games Hassiba Boulmerka had nothing to show to be counted among the medal contenders. She had become the first African woman to win a World championship gold in 1991, but she was affected emotionally by threats to her life in the run-up to the Olympics. She trained in Germany before proceeding to Barcelona and clocked an Area record of 3:55.30 to win the gold. Lyudmila Rogachova (3:56.91) of the Unified team and Qu Yunxia (3:37.08) of China, who was to set the World record (3:50.46) in September that year, took the silver and bronze.

The long-legged, multi-talented Heike Drechsler has had a special place in GDR/German athletics history as well as an impressive record in the Olympics. She had taken the bronze in 21.95s when Flo Jo set the World record of 21.34s in the 200m in Seoul. There she took the silver in long jump behind Jackie Joyner-Kersee. The American was the favourite for the long jump in Barcelona too. But Drechsler came up with a 7.14m to beat Unified Team’s Inessa Kravets’s opening jump of 7.12m. Joyner-Kersee who had beaten Drechsler in all the previous championship meetings the two had met till then, had to settle for bronze. At the age of 36 Drechsler would surprise herself in Sydney with another long jump gold.

1996 Atlanta

Three days after winning the 400m gold, Michael Johnson set a World record in the 200m that was termed the greatest feat in athletics history. His upright style does not suggest Johnson is generating the kind of speed that he actually does in the 200m and 400m. Italian Pietro Mennea’s World record of 19.72 set at the altitude of Mexico City in 1979 was bettered by Johnson (19.66) at the US Olympic trials that year. But the 19.32 that he clocked to take the Olympic gold was unbelievable. Frankie Fredericks of Namibia ran the third best all-time of 19.68s but still only the silver was his reward.

Fredericks was the favourite to win the 100m, but it was Canadian Donovan Bailey who won. That he did it in a World record of 9.84s came as a surprise. He proved himself a man for the big stage. Fredericks was not destined to win an Olympic gold. Trinidad’s Ato Boldon took the bronze in 9.90s. Bailey also anchored the Canadian team to the 4x100m gold, but after the Games gradually faded out, plagued by injuries.

Noureddine Morceli had his revenge in the 1500m. Despite a stumble nearing the ‘bell’, the Algerian recovered and won to make up for the huge disappointment that Barcelona turned out to be for him. Fermin Cacho was there again, taking the silver. The man to finish nowhere was Moroccan Hicham El Guerrouj. His knee grazed Morceli’s foot and the young Moroccan fell and finished last.

Marie-Jose Perec emulated Valerie Brisco-Hooks by scoring the 200-400 double. The tall Frenchwoman with her graceful, long strides beat Australian Cathy Freeman in the 400m, 48.25 to 48.62, and edged Jamaican veteran Merlene Ottey in the 200 at 22.12 to 22.24.

In what was a repeat of the 1993 World championships contest American Gail Devers beat Ottey by a whisker in the 100m. Devers retained her sprint title. Both she and Ottey were credited with the same time of 10.94s, the American being adjudged ahead by 0.005s when the thousandth of a second timing was taken into calculation. It was 0.001s in the World championships when the two were given timing of 10.82s.

2000 Sydney

Sydney produced two startling upsets in the men’s middle distance events. Two world record holders, Hicham El Guerrouj and Wilson Kipketer, were beaten over their favourite distances. Noah Ngeny of Kenya beat El Guerrouj in the 1500m, squeezing out an upset through the final 25 metres. The Kenyan clocked 3:32.07 for an Olympic record, while El Guerrouj, who had remained unbeaten except for one defeat through four years since the fall in Atlanta, timed 3:32.32. The Moroccan looked stunned in the end in a race which he was expected to win without trouble. Defending champion Morceli, involved in a collision, went out at the semifinal stage.

Kenya-born Kipketer, representing Denmark, was beaten by little-known German Nils Schuman in the 800m. In what turned out to be the poorest winning time since 1980, the German clocked 1:45.08 with Kipketer coming in 1:45.14.

Another huge upset could have come about on the track but for Haile Gebrselassie believing in himself in the 10,000m against Kenyan Paul Tergat, multiple time world cross-country champion, on the home straight in a memorable duel that separated the two in the end by a mere 0.09s.

Completing a hat-trick of Olympic gold was Czech Jan Zelezny. In an absorbing javelin contest in which Briton Steve Backley responded to Zelezny’s first-round throw of 89.41 with an 89.85, the Czech world record holder nailed it with a third-round throw of 90.17.

Australian racewalker Jane Saville sought a gun in the Sydney Games. “To shoot myself,” she would say later. To the delight of the Aussies, Saville entered the stadium in front in the women’s 20 km walk. There she was disqualified. What a moment it could have been had she been more careful! Chinese Wang Liping won the event, while another Chinese, Liu Hongyu and Italian Elisabetta Perone were disqualified ahead of Saville.

Marion Jones, looking for five gold medals could not get what she wanted, but all the same took three, in 100m, 200m and 4x400m. She could finish only third in long jump and the US team could manage only the bronze in the shorter relay. Jones confessed to doping later and in 2007 the IOC disqualified her results in all events. The IOC also disqualified the results in the relays, but the other women won appeals in the CAS to retain their medals. Though Greek Thanou was given the first place in the 100m results, the IOC did not award her the gold medal following her own doping disqualification in the Athens Games because of evasion.

Cheered wildly by over one lakh spectators at Stadium Australia, Cathy Freeman won the 400 metres. She was under pressure to perform throughout the run-up and the dramatic pull-out by defending champion Marie-Jose Perec before the Games, alleging threat to her life, only added to the pressure. In the event, the Australian won comfortably from Jamaican Lorraine Graham after trailing the latter into the home straight.

2004 Athens

In one of the most competitive 100m sprints ever, American Justin Gatlin won in 9.85s with Portugal’s Nigeria-born Francis Obikwelu coming second in 9.86s. The top five dipped under 9.95s. Gatlin was to test positive in 2006, but he was back after serving a four-year ban.

Kipketer was upset a second time in the Olympics, this time by Russian Yuriy Borzakowskiy. Though the Russian was known for his late charge, neither Kipketer nor the others could possibly assess how fast he could go on the home straight. In the final stage, South African Mbulaeni Mulaudzi denied Kipketer the silver. Borzakoswkiy won in 1:44.45, Mulaudzi was at 1:44.61 and Kipketer 1:44.65.

Revenge for Hicham El Guerrouj came on expected lines. To add to his joy was the 5000m gold. A bout of asthma had led to a rare defeat in the 1500m for the Moroccan in Rome prior to the Olympics. But he was ready for Athens. He won the 1500m in 3:34.18 and took the longer distance to become the first man after Paavo Nurmi to take the 1500-5000 double. Nurmi, it may be recalled, did it in one afternoon in the 1924 Games.

Liu Xiang equalled the World record in the 110m hurdles, clocking 12.91s for his first gold in the Olympics. He won the World championships title in 2007, but injuries robbed him of further participation in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.

The Athens Games were marked by doping infringements and disqualifications. The most dramatic came in the men’s hammer throw when Hungarian Adrian Annus, the initial gold winner, was suspected to have used a device to provide another person’s urine sample. He left Athens quickly after the medal ceremony, was unsuccessfully chased to the Hungarian border by testers and later he refused to provide a sample in Hungary. The IOC stripped him of the gold and awarded it to Koji Murofushi of Japan.

Another Hungarian, Robert Fazekas took the discus gold, but failed to complete the process of doping control, and was disqualified, when he refused, enabling Lithuanian Virgilijus Alekna to retain his title.

Polish racewalking great Robert Korzenowski won his third straight Olympic title in the 20km to bring an event that rarely gets international focus into the limelight.

In the women’s section it was the irrepressible Yelena Isinbayeva who took the centre-stage with a world record height of 4.91m to claim the pole vault gold. The Russian cleared 4.85m on her first attempt before going for the World record.

A Russian sweep of medals in the women’s long jump led by Tatyana Lebedeva, all with seven metres, was much in focus in later years because of the doping angle. Irina Simagina, who took silver, and Tatyana Kotova, who won the bronze, were caught for doping in later years. Their infractions did not have any link to past results and much to the disappointment of Anju Bobby George, who set a national record of 6.83 while finishing sixth, they retained their medals. Anju’s placing was upgraded to fifth following Marion Jones’s doping disqualification.

Briton Kelly Holmes provided a big surprise by claiming the 800m-1500m double. World champion and defending champion Maria Mutola was the favourite for the 800m, but was not cent per cent fit. Mutola finished fourth, unable to match the ‘kick’ that Holmes came up with on the home straight. It was only in the last 10 metres that the Briton gained an edge with the Mozambique veteran being passed by Moroccan Hasna Benhassi of Slovenian Jolanda Ceplak. In the 1500m Holmes beat Russian Tatyana Tomashova. In 2007 Tomashova was caught tampering with a doping control and sanctioned by the IAAF.

2008 Beijing

Usain Bolt started scripting his glorious sprinting saga in Beijing where the Jamaican clocked two incredible World records, 9.69s and 19.30s for the two sprints. He made it look so easy, and at the same time he also created an everlasting impact around the world for sprinting and athletics. Though he had set a World record of 9.72s for the 100m in New York that season, before coming to Beijing, the world had not heard much about the 22-year-old Jamaican who had also won the 200m at the Kingston World Junior championships.

In the next four years the world will know plenty about him. He has this aura of invincibility in championship sprinting. Bolt was also part of the world-record-setting gold-winning Jamaican quartet in the 4x100m relay but may lose that medal as one of the members, Nesta Carter, returned a positive dope test in re-analysis recently.

Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele was another athlete who scored a double. He lived up to the rich tradition set by Gebrselassie while clinching the 5000m and 10,000m gold medals.

The last-minute pull-out by Liu Xiang from the 110m hurdles plunged China into gloom. He had battled injury to be ready for these games but found the recovery process inadequate eventually.

Christine Ohuruogu brought off a surprise in the women’s 400m. Though the Briton was the world champion in 2007, it was American Sanya Richards who was the favourite. Richards led at 100, 200 and 300, but Ohuruogu caught up with her with 35 metres to go and beat her, clocking 49.62s. Jamaican Shericka Williams pushed ahead of the American for the silver towards the finish.

Pamela Jelimo, the 18-year-old Kenyan, was expected to provide the fireworks with world indoor champion Yelena Soboleva of Russia in the 800m. But the Russian was caught doping before the games and Jelimo had no one to challenge her as she timed 1:54.87 to win. It was the third fastest in history and also a world junior record. Team-mate Janeth Jepkosgei was second in 1:56.07. Mutola in her record sixth Olympics could only manage the fifth place despite timing 1:57.68. Jelimo, who has nine of her top 10 marks in 2008, had timed 1:54.99 in Berlin more than two months prior to the Olympics. She faded away after Beijing but came back in 2012 to finish fourth in London.

Isinbayeva retained her pole vault title with yet another World record (5.05m). Like Sergey Bubka at one time in the men’s section, the Russian woman held the top 10 marks in the all-time lists by that feat in Beijing. Since then she added one more centimetre to the record, taking it to 5.06 in Zurich in 2009.

Gulnara Galkina was another Russian woman, who set a World record in Beijing. She timed 8:58.81 in the 3000m steeplechase, which made its Olympic debut in 2008.

Underscoring the tremendous superiority of the Ethiopian distance runners in these Games was Tirunesh Dibaba who scored the 5000-10,000m double.

2012 London

Just like Beijing, these Games also belonged to Usain Bolt. The Jamaican had said he would be considered a great only after he retained his sprint titles in the Olympics. He achieved that in style notwithstanding the fitness issues he had during the run-up. Having improved his World records from Beijing to 9.58s and 19.19s in the Berlin World championships in 2009 the world expected the Jamaican superstar to crack those records rather than just win. Bolt won in 9.63s, an Olympic record, and 19.32s to become the first man to retain the sprint double.

A World record of high value came in the 800m. David Rudisha timed 1:40.91 to better his own previous mark of 1:41.01. Not since Cuban Alberto Juantorena in Montreal in 1976 had someone bettered a World record over this distance at the Olympics. In his record-running wake the Kenyan took Botswana’s Nijel Amos to a world junior record of 1:41.73 for the silver, which also happened to be ninth on the all-time men’s lists.

Britain enjoyed great success at home. And one of the athletes who contributed to that remarkable jump for Old Blighty in the medals table (from a total of 47 in Beijing to 65 and third position in London including 29 gold medals) was Mo Farah. The Somalia-born distance runner pulverised the opposition with his electrifying speed through the last 300 metres in both the 5000 and 10,000. That it was his American training partner Galen Rupp rather than an Ethiopian or a Kenyan who challenged him through the final stretch in the 10,000m came as a surprise.

Keshorn Walcott of Trinidad and Tobago provided the upset of the Games by taking the javelin gold with a throw of 84.58m. The world junior champion upset a classy field that included Andreas Thorkildsen of Norway, who had won the two previous editions, Czech Vitezslav Vesely, who threw to a personal best 88.34 in the qualifying round, and Terro Pitkamaki of Finland, world champion in 2007. In the end Olaksandr Pyatnytsya of Ukraine (84.51m) and Antti Ruuskanen of Finland (84.12) were the minor medal winners.

The Beijing and London Games saw several doping cases, especially in re-tests conducted in subsequent years. The process is still continuing and there is no clear information yet about how many have been caught or how medals are to be re-allocated following doping violations.

In one of the worst ‘dopers races’ in the women’s section, which has been described by many as the “dirtiest race ever”, the Turkish champion in the 1500m, Asli Cakir Alptekin was disqualified in 2015 and banned for eight years for a second offence. Her Olympic result was also annulled. Several others in that race had either served suspensions in the past or were involved in doping later.

Russian Maria Savinova, who won the 800m, was another athlete involved in a doping case. Discus thrower Darya Pishchalnikova was another Russian athlete, who had her silver taken away and the rest of the places upgraded. One of the beneficiaries was India’s Krishna Poonia, whose original seventh place has been improved to sixth. Pishchalnikova was penalised by Russia for trying to become a “whistleblower”. She was banned for 10 years.

There is also a pending charge against high jump winner Anna Chicherova, also of Russia, whose sample re-analysis had reportedly turned up positive. Valerie Adams of New Zealand was awarded the shot put gold following the doping disqualification of Nadzeya Ostapchuk of Belarus.

In fair competition — or at least in competition that did not throw up a dope cheat then or later — American Allyson Felix took the 200m beating Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser, who won the 100m. Sanya Richards avenged her Beijing loss by beating Ohuruogu in the 400m.

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