A BETTER TRACK MEET than the Olympic Games? That’s my take on the World Championships. Really. None of the overblown hype that I think characterizes the IOC’s big show. Just all track, all the time. There are only two things I regret about the WC: that the IAAF didn’t start it years earlier and that it didn’t decide to have the meet in every non-Olympic year.
Traipsing down memory lane—as I first did in this space in the November ’13 issue—here in chrono order are the things that stick in my mind the most from each of the installments, not all of them necessarily having happened on the field of play:
Mary Slaney’s 1500/3000 double golds, beating the favored Soviets. “Little Mary” (Decker at the time) wasn’t the easiest person for journalists to warm to, but her performances brought tears to the eyes of this supposedly impartial scribe.
Ben Johnson’s head-to-head century with Carl Lewis (forget the disgraceful aftermath; we’re talking real time here) captured the world’s imagination. And how about Stefka Kostadinova setting the still-standing World Record in the high jump just 12 minutes later, while the stadium was still abuzz and thus ignored her?
How could it be anything but probably the greatest field-event duel of all time, Lewis vs. Mike Powell? I was lucky enough to watch the first 5 rounds from close to the pit on the backstretch, and extra lucky to have made it almost back to my seat in the pressbox in time for the World Record, watching while standing at the top of the stairwell. Many thanks to the cleaning crew who shooed me out of the bathroom on the way, saving me from missing it.
It was a great meet for WRs, and who can forget Michael Johnson putting up history’s first sub-43 relay leg? But for sheer drama, it had to be the protracted photofinish decision for Gail Devers over Merlene Ottey in the 100.
Serendipity—leaving the pressbox and hunkering down with the T&FN tour, seats right on top of the triple jump pit as Jonathan Edwards rewrote the event. And a couple of days later Inessa Kravets did the same in the women’s.
IAAF majordomo Primo Nebiolo publicly excoriating the locals for having the nerve to stay away in droves, choosing an August vacation over his World Championships. They missed Sergey Bubka’s historic gold No. 6 in the vault.
Michael Johnson’s 400 WR. Has anyone else ever threatened the all-time best for so long before actually getting it? I mean, remember, he was No. 1 in the event in ’90, and didn’t claim the big prize for almost a decade, just shy of his 32nd birthday.
Hard for my first job behind the WC mike not to take precedence. On the actual battlefield, the women’s vault duel, won by Stacy Dragila over Svetlana Feofanova.
The Arc de Triomphe, the Champs Élysées, the Louvre, the pommes frites… oh yeah, there was also a track meet! That would have to be Jon Drummond’s lie-on-the-track protest of his false start that wasn’t.
Cold rain put a damper on a lot of things, but couldn’t extinguish the fire that was the 100 win of the diminutive Lauryn Williams. And a brilliant opening ceremony which included the Metallica cover band—heavy metal on cellos!—Apocalyptica.
How about a pair of stunning homestretch battles in the men’s 800 and 1500? In each race “everybody” was in contention with 100m to go and almost all the places changed from that point on. And how about out-of-nowhere basketballer Donald Thomas in the high jump?
The Usain Bolt Show, with a pair of WRs that were after his Beijing breakout the year before surprises only in the sense that nobody could do that two years in a row. Could they? Well, not among mortals.
This would be the Usain Bolt Non-Show, with one of the most famous false-start DQs in the sport’s history. Even if few were there to see it.
The green & gold Bolt Show expanded to include fellow Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who matched her famed compatriot’s sprint triple.
What I remember most is the political significance of the pre-meet IAAF Congress, featuring the first contested election for IAAF President in many a year. High drama, with two former superstars duking it out for the top spot, Seb Coe defeating Bubka. Coe immediately began laying out his plans for markedly revamping the running of the sport from top to bottom, a process that continues to this day.
My September ’17 column was headlined this way: “Heretical thought: is it more fun watching track on your computer?” I experienced the British version of the meet from the comfort of my home office with multiple computer screens up and running. It still doesn’t compare with the in-person spectacle, but it was most informative to have so much data right at hand pretty much on demand. The best part is that I’m optimistic that properly done, this can be a way to recapture a dwindling audience for our sport. Like it or not, electronics is our future. No matter how you watched this one, you couldn’t come away without a searing memory of Bolt’s career coming to a close pulling up in the relay.
This edition of the magazine features Top 10 Predictions for each event, and in looking over the fields we’re about to be treated to, I’ll be brave and predict the greatest men’s shot competition ever. WR not required for it to be so.
No matter what happens on the field of play, I can already tell you what the highlight—for me and many-many others—will be: the World Championships finally come to these shores. Are we there yet? □