IAAF World Athletics Championships: The Best Bits
Before 1983, fans of track and field had to wait four years for a global gathering of the sport’s greats – the Olympic Games.
The IAAF first held a world championship event in the 1970s. But only when this was hugely expanded for the 1983 meet was it seen as the true world championships.
So successful was this rival to the Olympics that within a decade it was being held every two years.
This year’s event in Doha isn’t far around the corner: things kick off on September 27. To get us in the mood, let’s take a look at some of the finest gold medallists from the previous 16 championships.
1983 Helsinki: Daley Thompson
For a generation of athletics fans, there was simply no finer sight than Thompson bestriding the decathlon stage.
He matched his supreme multi-sport talent and tireless work ethic with an ultra-competitive streak and love of the spotlight. When the chips were down, Daley delivered.
Never more so than in Helsinki, where Thompson – at the peak of his powers – denied his perennial West German rivals Jurgen Hingsen and Siggi Wentz.
1987 Rome: Stefka Kostadinova
Bulgarian high-jumper Kostadinova came into the event as the world record holder. But she faced stiff competition from Tamara Bykova of the USSR, the defending champion.
After a thrilling duel, Kostadinova cleared at 2.06m to take gold. She took one final attempt at 2.09m, a new women’s world record – and soared over the bar.
That jump established her as an all-time great – helped by the fact that her record still stands.
1991 Tokyo: Mike Powell
Talking of long-standing field records… by 1991 Bob Beamon’s incredible long jump world record of 8.90m, set in the altitude of Mexico City in the 1968 Olympics, had been supreme for 23 years.
Then the great Carl Lewis hurtled down the Tokyo runway and broke that record by a centimetre.
That was drama enough; but fellow American Mike Powell responded by recording a new record of 8.95m that won him gold and stands to this day.
1993 Stuttgart: Gail Devers
For the best part of a decade, US sprinter Devers was pre-eminent in an extremely competitive sector of the sport. She had won 100m gold at the previous year’s Olympics in a final where the first five finished within 0.06secs.
Her duel in Stuttgart with Merlene Ottey was so close that Devers and the Jamaican recorded the same time before Devers was declared the narrow winner.
Devers won more Olympic and World golds in the years to come. It was an extraordinary achievement for a woman who had been diagnosed with a serious autoimmune illness in 1990.
1995 Gothenburg: Jonathan Edwards
1995 was an astonishing year for British triple-jumper Edwards. He had always shown enormous potential for his event, but suddenly he made giant strides to the very top of the sport.
He had already gone way beyond the supposedly unbreakable 18-metre barrier with a wind-assisted 18.43m in the European Cup.
That jump didn’t count for record purposes, but in Gothenburg he sailed out to 18.16m and then to 18.29m. His efforts were good enough to win gold – and to put him at the top of the all-time list to this day.
1997 Athens: Cathy Freeman
Cathy Freeman was a trailblazer, the first indigenous Australian to win a gold medal in the Commonwealth Games.
That was in 1990 and by 1997 she was one of the world’s leading 400m athletes, a status she cemented with victory from the inside lane in Athens.
Freeman went on to an iconic victory on home soil in the Sydney Olympics of 2000.
1999 Seville: Michael Johnson
Rarely has a sprinter looked so relaxed while covering the ground at phenomenal speed. But for American star Johnson, 1999 had been a challenging year.
Injury had restricted him to just four 400m races before Seville. But not only did Johnson take gold in Spain, he set a world record of 43.18secs that would stand for 17 years.
It was the last of his eight World Championships golds that, along with four Olympic triumphs, make him one of the all-time greats.
2001 Edmonton: Jan Zelezny
The greatest javelin thrower of all time, Zelezny had been at the peak of the sport for almost 15 years by the time these championships opened.
He was already a triple Olympic gold medallist and his 1996 world record throw of 98.48m that still stands.
In Edmonton the Czech set a championship record of 92.80m to win by more than a metre from Aki Parviainen of Finland.
2003 Paris: Eliud Kipchoge
Eliud Kipchoge is currently the master of the Marathon. But 16 years ago he was just 18, and was not expected to win the 5,000m.
Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco and Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele, the leading men in the event, duly fought out a thrilling duel – but with them all the way was Kipchoge.
As a compelling 53-second final lap reached its conclusion, Kenya’s Kipchoge gradually wore down the Moroccan to take gold by inches.
2005 Helsinki: Allyson Felix
Allyson Felix was still only 19 when she won 200m gold in Helsinki. The American was the youngest winner of the event – and she was helped when favourite Veronica Campbell, of Jamaica, ran a dreadful bend and came out of her lane.
Felix went on to win a further 10 World Championship gold medals and six Olympic titles in individual and relay events in a glittering career.
Not bad for someone who was nicknamed “Chicken Legs” in high school.
2007 Osaka: Carolina Kluft
After taking gold at the previous two World Championships, and winning her previous 18 heptathlons, Kluft arrived in Japan as firm favourite.
The Swede confirmed her domination of the event in tremendous style, equalling her best time in the 100m and going higher than ever in the high jump.
By the time the seven events were over she had 7,032 points, her best ever and the second highest total of all time.
2009 Berlin: Usain Bolt
The legendary Jamaican had already done the sprint double at the 2008 Olympics. But that was just a warm-up for an astonishing display in Germany.
He obliterated the 100m field – and his own world record – in a scarcely believable time of 9.58secs, a mark that still stands.
Just in case anybody doubted his superiority, he went on to take gold in the 200m too – also in a new world record time of 19.19secs. The stage was set for almost another decade of Bolt brilliance.
2011 Daegu: Yohan Blake
We mention Yohan Blake because he deserves to be remembered as a world champion after one of the most controversial episodes in the event’s history.
Bolt, clear favorite to follow up on his sprint double of two years earlier, cruised to the final but was then eliminated after a false start.
His fellow Jamaican Blake did not share the crushing disappointment of the rest of the world and won the restarted race in a relatively sedate 9.92secs.
2013 Moscow: Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce
By 2013 the Jamaican star was the undoubted No.1 in women’s sprinting. But in Moscow she won with style.
Fraser-Pryce took 100m gold by an amazing 0.22secs, the biggest winning margin in World Championships history. She then became the first women’s sprint double winner in 22 years by taking the 200m.
A third gold followed in the 4x100m relay, which Jamaica won by 1.46secs – a remarkable margin in a sprint event.
2015 Beijing: Mo Farah
One of the stars of a triumphant London Olympics in 2012, Farah came to China looking to repeat his double success of Moscow two years before.
The rest of the field stalked his every move, and when he went for home with 500m to go in the 10,000m, it looked too soon.
But Farah held on – and he took gold again in the 5,000m when he overhauled Caleb Ndiku of Kenya in the finishing straight.
2017 London: Sally Pearson
Another star of the Games of 2012 was Australia’s Sally Pearson, who returned to the London Stadium to shine again five years later.
She had won the 100m hurdles at the 2011 World Championships but had suffered serious injuries in 2015 and 2016.
However, in a superb final she gradually overhauled Dawn Harper-Nelson of the USA in a driving finish.
Why not check out our piece on the 10 weirdest Olympic sports of all time?