Athletics world moves on from pioneers Lewis and BubkaAugust 10th, 2009 - 2:20 pm ICT by IANS
By John Bagratuni
Berlin, Aug 10 (DPA) Youngsters Carl Lewis and Sergei Bubka made a first impression in 1983 when the Olympic showcase sport of athletics finally held its first World Championships.
The two went on to be among the most celebrated athletes of their generation after the initial success in Helsinki.
Lewis’ achievement of 10 overall medals, among them eight gold, is unrivalled while Bubka is the only athlete with six world titles in one event.
His transition from a Soviet athlete to a CIS starter to a Ukrainian athlete also highlights the political changes at the time.
The ruling body IAAF agreed in 1976 to hold world championships as a separate event after earlier naming Olympic gold medallists world champions.
European championships had long existed, but apart from the Olympics and the odd meetings between nations there was no event bringing together the top athletes from around the world.
When the 1,355 athletes from 154 countries met in Finland for the first worlds Aug 7-14, 1983, it was still the height of the Cold War.
The top athletes met for the first time on the track and field since the Munich Olympics in 1972, as the famous African runners were not in Montreal 1976 and the US and other western countries boycotted the 1980 Games in Munich. The Soviets and others then didn’t go to Los Angeles in 1984.
Inaugural world champions included East German Marlies Goehr in the 100m, Czech Jarmila Kratochvilova recorded a 400m world record and Lewis took a title treble in the 100m, long jump and 4×100m relay.
The championships have grown ever since with 1,978 athletes from 203 countries present at the 11th edition 2007 in Osaka. Eight world championships have been staged in Europe, Japan hosted the worlds in Osaka and 1991 in Tokyo, and there has also been a North American edition 2001 in Edmonton.
However, the most successful nation at the worlds, the US, are yet to host the event.
Americans Lewis and Michael Johnson lead the overall tally, with Lewis on 8-1-1 and Johnson on a perfect 9-0-0 with his 400m world record from Seville 1999 still valid.
Lewis’ silver comes from an epic 1991 long jump duel in Tokyo in which rival Mike Powell took gold with a world record 8.95m.
Bubka’s six golds have gone down in history along with his 34 career world records, Jonathan Edwards’ triple jump world record from 1995 in Gothenburg is unforgotten and Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie dazzled the crowds with his long-distance heroics from 1993 onwards.
That event in Stuttgart also saw Merlene Ottey’s heartbreaking 100m photo-finish defeat to Gail Devers in the 100m. It remains unrivalled for crowd support — which not even the August edition in Berlin will match.
But the worlds have also seen their share of doping and other disgrace.
Italian judges “helped” Giovanni Evangelisti to a long jump bronze 1987 in Rome before TV evidence later revealed that that the home boy had not jumped that far. American sprinter Jon Drummond was kicked out in 2003 for a furious false start protest.
Ben Johnson lost his 100m title and world record from 1987 in the aftermath of his Olympic doping shame the following year. In 2003, Kelli White was stripped of her 100m and 200m double for substance abuse in what turned out to be the first case related to the Balco lab scandal which eventually also hit Marion Jones.
Held every four years in the beginning, the worlds changed to a two-year rhythm in 1991 due to the appeal of the event which has allowed more than 80 countries to celebrate medals.
With the old amateur rules abolished by the International Olympic Committee, the IAAF also introduced prize money, with a gold medal worth $80,000 since 1997 and a world record another 100,000.
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Tags: 1980 games, 400m world record, carl lewis, celebrated athletes, east german, gold medallists, inaugural world, initial success, long jump, marlies, munich olympics, olympic gold, olympics in 1972, political changes, sergei bubka, soviets, western countries, world champions, world championships, world titles