ALL-TIME

  • Iolanda Balaş (Getty Images) Iolanda Balas ROM ROM 2012 | high jump
  • IAAF Hall of Fame - Abebe Bikila (ETH) (Getty Images) Abebe Bikila ETH ETH 2012 | marathon
  • IAAF Hall of Fame - Fanny Blankers-Koen (NED) (Getty Images) Fanny Blankers-Koen NED NED 2012 | 100m, 200m, 80m hurdles, high jump, pentathlon
  • Soviet high jumper Valeriy Brumel (Getty Images) Valeriy Brumel URS URS 2014 | high jump 1960-1965
  • IAAF Hall of Fame - Sergey Bubka (UKR) (Getty Images)  (Getty Images) Sergey Bubka UKR UKR 2012 | pole vault
  • Sebastian Coe of Great Britain raises his arms in celebration as he crosses the finish line ahead of Jurgen Straub to win the men's 1500m race on 1st August 1980 at the XXII Summer Olympic Games in Moscow, Russia () Sebastian Coe GBR GBR 2012 | 800m, 1500m
  • Betty Cuthbert wins the 200m at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956 (Getty images) Betty Cuthbert AUS AUS 2012 | 100m, 200m, 400m
  • Adhemar Ferreira da Silva jumping in Helsinki (Getty Images) Adhemar da Silva BRA BRA 2012 | triple jump
  • US 400m hurdler Glenn Davis (Getty Images) Glenn Davis USA USA 2014 | 400m hurdles 1956-1960
  • IAAF Hall of Fame - Mildred 'Babe' Didriksen (USA) (Getty Images) Mildred 'Babe' Didriksen USA USA 2012 | 80m hurdles, javelin, high jump
  • Harrison Dillard (Getty Images) Harrison Dillard USA USA 2013 | 100m, 110m hurdles
  • German long jumper Heike Drechsler (Getty Images) Heike Drechsler GER GER 2014 | long jump, 100m, 200m 1981-2004
  • Moroccan middle-distance runner Hicham El Guerrouj (Getty Images) Hicham El Guerrouj MAR MAR 2014 | 1500m, 3000m, 5000m 1994-2004
  • IAAF Hall of Fame - Vladimir Golubnichiy (USSR/UKR) (Getty Images) Vladimir Golubnichiy URS URS 2012 | 20km race walk
  • Marjorie Jackson at the 1952 Olympic Games () Marjorie Jackson AUS AUS 2013 | 100m, 200m
  • 1 Aug 1996: Michael Johnson of the USA celebrates after his winning the men's 200 meters in a new world record time of 19.32 seconds in the Centennial Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. Johnson was the first man ever to win Olympic gol (Getty Images) Michael Johnson USA USA 2012 | 200m, 400m
  • Jackie Joyner-Kersee in Seoul - 1988 Olympic gold in the Long Jump and Heptathlon (Getty Images) Jackie Joyner-Kersee USA USA 2012 | heptathlon, long jump
  • IAAF Hall of Fame - Alberto Juantorena (CUB) (Getty Images) Alberto Juantorena CUB CUB 2012 | 400m, 800m
  • Wang Junxia (China) (Getty Images) Wang Junxia CHN CHN 2012 | 3000m, 5000m, 10,000m
  • Kip Keino leading Ben Jipcho and Tapio Kantanen in the 1972 Olympic 3000m Steeplechase (Getty Images) Kip Keino KEN KEN 2012 | 1500m, 5000m, 3000m steeplechase
  • Marita Koch wins the 1983 world 200m title (Getty Images) Marita Koch GDR GDR 2014 | 60m, 100m, 200m, 400m 1975-1986
  • Hannes Kolehmainen (Getty Images) Hannes Kolehmainen FIN FIN 2013 | 5000m, 10,000m, marathon
  • Polish race walker Robert Korzeniowski (Getty Images) Robert Korzeniowski POL POL 2014 | 20km race walk, 50km race walk 1990-2004
  • Stefka Kostadinova (Getty Images) Stefka Kostadinova BUL BUL 2012 | high jump
  • IAAF Hall of Fame - Carl lewis (USA) (Getty Images) Carl Lewis USA USA 2012 | 100m, 200m, long jump
  • Natalya Lisovskaya (Getty Images) Nataliya Lisovskaya URS URS 2013 | shot put
  • Soviet javelin thrower Janis Lusis (Mark Shearman) Janis Lusis URS URS 2014 | javelin 1962-1976
  • Svetlana Masterkova (Getty Images) Svetlana Masterkova RUS RUS 2013 | 800m, 1500m, mile
  • US decathlete Bob Mathias (Getty Images) Bob Mathias USA USA 2014 | decathlon 1948-1952
  • Noureddine Morceli (Getty Images) Noureddine Morceli ALG ALG 2013 | 1500m, mile
  • IAAF Hall of Fame - Edwin Moses (USA) (Getty Images  ) Edwin Moses USA USA 2012 | 400m hurdles
  • Ville Ritola leads Paavo Nurmi at the 1928 Olympics (Getty Images) Paavo Nurmi FIN FIN 2012 | 1500m, 5000m, 10,000m
  • IAAF Hall of Fame - Dan O'Brien (USA) (Getty Images) Dan O'Brien USA USA 2012 | decathlon
  • Parry O'Brien (Getty Images) Parry O'Brien USA USA 2013 | shot put
  • IAAF Hall of Fame - Al Oerter (USA) (Getty images) Al Oerter USA USA 2012 | discus
  • Jesse Owens at the start of the 200m at the 1936 Olympic Games. The legendary American won four gold medals that year. (Getty Images) Jesse Owens USA USA 2012 | 100m, 200m, long jump
  • Marie-José Perec (Getty Images) Marie-José Pérec FRA FRA 2013 | 200m, 400m
  • US sprinter Wilma Rudolph (Getty Images) Wilma Rudolph USA USA 2014 | 100m, 200m 1956-1962
  • Viktor Saneyev (Getty Images) Viktor Saneyev URS URS 2013 | triple jump
  • Yuriy Sedykh (Getty Images) Yuriy Sedykh URS URS 2013 | hammer
  • December 1964: New Zealander Peter Snell winning the gold medal in the 1,500 metres at the Tokyo Olympic Games held at the National Stadium. He also won the 800 metres (Getty Images) Peter Snell NZL NZL 2012 | 800m, 1500m
  • Australian sprint hurdler Shirley Strickland de la Hunty (Getty Images) Shirley Strickland de la Hunty AUS AUS 2014 | 80m hurdles 1947-1956
  • Irena Szewinska - IAAF Hall of Fame (Getty Images) Irena Szewinska POL POL 2012 | 100m, 200m, 400m, long jump
  • Daley Thompson at the 1984 Olympic Games () Daley Thompson GBR GBR 2013 | decathlon
  • Finnish distance runner Lasse Viren (Getty Images) Lasse Viren FIN FIN 2014 | 5000m, 10,000m, marathon 1971-1980
  • Grete Waitz salutes the Helsinki crowd after her 1983 World Championship win (Getty Images) Grete Waitz NOR NOR 2013 | 10,000m, marathon, cross country
  • US pole vaulter Cornelius Warmerdam (Getty Images) Cornelius Warmerdam USA USA 2014 | pole vault 1940-1948
  • IAAF Hall of Fame - Emil Zatopek (TCH) (Getty Images) Emil Zatopek TCH TCH 2012 | 5000m, 10,000m, marathon
Hall of Fame Close

Iolanda Balas The illustrious American magazine Track and Field News voted Balas as the best female high jumper of the 20th century in 2000 and there is little doubt that her achievements merited such an accolade.

Balas set the first of her 14 World records as a 19-year-old in the summer of 1956 when she cleared 1.75m but could only finish fifth at the Olympic Games later in the year when they were held in Melbourne.

However, in 1957, she started a winning streak of 140 competitions that was to last just over a decade despite an unsophisticated technique that was little more than a slightly modified 'scissors' jump. 

In 1958, she cleared 1.83m and so became the first woman to clear the psychologically and historically significant barrier of six feet in imperial measurement. That summer she took what would be the first of two European titles during her career.

She triumphed at the 1960 Olympics, going over an Olympic record of 1.85m, which was just one centimetre short of her then World record. 

Her nearest rivals in Rome could only clear 1.71m, giving Balas the greatest winning margin in an Olympic or World Championships women's High Jump contest and a statistic that is unlikely to be improved upon any time soon.

In 1961, she improved her World record on four more occasions, culminating in a clearance of 1.91m in Sofia on 16 July, which was to remain unbeaten until 1971.

Her second Olympic gold medal came at the 1964 Games in Tokyo, where she had a flawless competition up to and including her winning height of 1.90m before she had three unsuccessful attempts at a new World record of 1.92m.
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Abebe Bikila Abebe Bikila's marathon victory at the 1960 Olympic Games was the first time that an Olympic gold medal had been won by a black athlete representing an African nation.

His triumph in Rome became a beacon for the generations of African runners, particularly from East Africa, that followed in his footsteps in the subsequent decades.

Bikila ran barefoot through the Italian capital, an occasion made even more atmospheric by being the first Olympic marathon to be run at night, crossing the line in what was then a world best of 2:15:16.2.

Between 1960 and 1966, Bikila won 12 out of the 13 marathons he contested; his only loss coming at the 1963 Boston Marathon where he finished fifth.

Due to an appendectomy six weeks beforehand, Bikila was far from the sole favourite for the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo but he proved his doubters wrong in emphatic fashion.

Now wearing running shoes, he forced the pace from 15km and had a clear lead by the halfway point, eventually crossing the line in 2:12:11.2, which took nearly two minutes off the previous world best.

Bikila also started the 1968 Olympic marathon but had to drop out at 17km due to leg problems.

In 1969, he tragically suffered a broken neck and spinal cord injuries in a car accident that confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

He died from a brain haemorrhage in 1973 at the age of just 41 but Bikila remains to this day an iconic name in athletics.
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Fanny Blankers-Koen Blankers-Koen will always be remembered for her feat of winning four gold medals at the 1948 Olympic Games but The Flying Housewife had been a top international athlete for a dozen years before her exploits in London.

She had gone to the 1936 Olympic Games at the age of 18, finishing fifth in the high jump as well as in the 4x100m relay.

In 1938, she equalled the 100 yards world record of 11.0, the first of 12 official world records during her career.

World War II robbed her of opportunities to compete at two Olympics but, as well as having two children during those years, she set world records in the 100m, 80m hurdles, high jump and long jump.

At the 1946 European Championships, Blankers-Koen finally started to amass gold medals, winning the 80m hurdles and being part of the victorious Dutch 4x100m relay team.

With Olympic rules then limiting athletes to three individual events and a relay, Blankers-Koen focused on the 100m, 200m and 80m hurdles in London and opted to not contest the high and long jump, despite being the world record holder in both disciplines.

She duly won her chosen trio and the relay, returning home to huge public acclaim and was taken through the packed streets of Amsterdam by a horse-drawn open-topped carriage.

Blankers-Koen went on to triumph in the same three individual events at the 1950 European Athletics Championships.

In 1999, five years before her death at the age of 85, she was voted Female Athlete of the Century by the IAAF.
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Valeriy Brumel

Valeriy Brumel, who was born in Siberia but spent his formative years in Ukraine, first came to the attention of Soviet athletics coaches in 1958 when, at the age of 16, he cleared 2.00m; a prodigious height in that era.

In 1960, he broke the European record with a leap of 2.17m and went to the Olympic Games later that summer as a clear medal hope.

In Rome, he didn’t disappoint and returned home with a silver medal, only losing the gold medal to his compatriot Robert Shavlakadze on count-back.

He went on to set three further European records in 1960 shortly after the Olympics.

The following year, Brumel leapt the first of his six successive world records, clearing 2.23m at the Moscow Cup meeting. During the next two years, he took the world record up to 2.28m, the last mark being cleared at the USSR v USA match in Moscow in July 1963.

In 1964, Brumel travelled to Tokyo and despite some indifferent form leading up to the Games, he triumphed in an Olympic record of 2.18m, this time winning on count-back from the USA’s John Thomas.

Brumel also had success on the continental stage, winning at the 1962 European Championships and his 2.28m mark stood as a European record until 1976.

Tragically, Brumel’s career as an international athlete came to a premature end at the age of just 23. Late in 1965, he was involved in a serious motor bike accident and badly injured his right leg.

He died in 2003 at the age of 60.

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Sergey Bubka

There are few that would argue that Sergey Bubka is not the greatest pole vaulter ever.

Starting with a surprise victory as a 19-year-old at the inaugural IAAF World Championships in 1983, Bubka went on to triumph on the next five occasions. No other athlete has ever won six gold medals in the same individual discipline.

Bubka also set 35 World records in his event. He broke the outdoor World record 17 times and the indoor World record on 18 occasions.

He was the first man to clear the historic and still incredibly elusive height of 6.00m, doing so in Paris on 13 June, 1985, and he still holds both the outdoor and indoor World records.

He cleared 6.14m outdoors on 31 July 1994 in Sestriere, Italy, but that is inferior to his indoor mark of 6.15m which he cleared just over a year earlier in his home city of Donetsk.

Despite his dominance of pole vaulting during the 1980s and 90s, he was fated only to celebrate only one Olympic victory, which came in 1988.

The Soviet boycott of the 1984 Olympics, ill-judged tactics in 1992 and untimely injuries in 1996 and 2000 meant that the gold in 1988, when Seoul staged the Games, was the only Olympic medal in his phenomenal career, which also included World Indoor Championships and European Athletics Championships titles.

Bubka has remained extensively involved with sport since his retirement in 2000.

He is the President of his country's National Olympic Committee and is a member of the International Olympic Committee as well as being an IAAF Vice-President.

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Sebastian Coe Sebastian Coe's talent first become obvious to an international audience when he won the 800m title at the 1977 European Athletics Indoor Championships.

However, he became a true superstar of the sport in 1979 when he set three World records in 41 days, running 800m and Mile records at separate meetings in Oslo before going into new territory over 1500m in Zurich.

At the 1980 Olympics, Coe was favourite for the 800m but ran a tactically poor race and had to settle for the silver medal behind his compatriot Steve Ovett but, six days later, he took the 1500m title.

Four more World records followed in 1981.

He started off the year with an 800m World indoor record before improving his own standard over two laps of the track outdoors when he ran 1:41.73 in Florence, which was to remain unbeaten until 1997.

Coe then reduced his own 1000m World record from the previous year to 2:12.18, another mark which was to stand the test of time and not bettered for more than 18 years.

His final World record of 1981 came when ran a 3:47.33 Mile in Brussels.

In 1983, he improved his 800m indoor time to 1:44.91 on home soil at Cosford.

Coe's second Olympic 1500m gold medal came in similar circumstances to those of four years earlier. In Los Angeles, he had to settle for the silver medal over 800m before redeeming himself over the longer distance.

He has become of of the most high-profile sports administrators in the world and was the Chairman of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games.

Coe is also currently a Vice-President of the IAAF.
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Betty Cuthbert At the age of 18, Betty Cuthbert became the darling of the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne.

In front of family and friends, the prodigiously talented teenager won both the 100m and 200m and then ran the anchor leg on the gold medal-winning Australian 4x100m relay team which set world records in both the heats and final.

However, at the 1960 Olympics, a hamstring injury meant Cuthbert failed to get beyond the 100m quarter-finals and she withdrew from her other events.

Bitterly disappointed, Cuthbert briefly retired from athletics but returned to the fray in 1962.

With the 400m being introduced onto the women's programme at the 1964 Olympics, and as she had set two 440 yards world records in 1959 and another pair in 1963, Cuthbert decided to focus on that distance for her final tilt at Olympic glory rather than bid to regain her titles in the shorter sprints.

It proved to be a wise decision.

In the Tokyo final, Cuthbert was in front from the first few metres and never headed. “It was the only perfect race I have ever run,” she was later to reflect.

Cuthbert set 16 official world records, either as an individual or in relay teams, during her career.

Australia honoured Cuthbert and her athletics achievements when it staged the 2000 Olympic Games in her home city of Sydney, 46 years after her famous treble in Melbourne.

During the opening ceremony, she was one of the Olympic torch bearers in the stadium.
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Adhemar da Silva

Triple jumper Adhemar Da Silva has a good claim to being the greatest ever athlete produced by the South American continent thanks to his back-to-back Olympic Games gold medals in 1952 and 1956.

After finishing a modest eighth at the 1948 Olympics, in 1950 da Silva established himself as the top triple jumper in the world when he equalled Naoto Tajima's 14-year-old world record of 16.00m. The following year, he improved that mark to 16.01m.

Despite other opponents with good medal credentials, da Silva was in a class of his own in Helsinki, leaping 15.95m with his opening jump and then breaking his own world record with 16.12m in the second round.

Four rounds later, he improved further to 16.22m and he also had jumps over 16 metres in the fourth and sixth rounds.

The noted French athletics writer Alain Billouin described da Silva's Helsinki performance with these words: “Gracefully, he skimmed through each hop-step-and-jump, displaying the poise and finesse of a samba dancer.”

After losing his world record to the Soviet Union's Leonid Shcherbakov, who jumped 16.23m in 1953, da Silva regained it two years later with a mighty effort of 16.56m at the 1955 Pan-American Games in Mexico City.

At the 1956 Olympics, he won with an Olympic record of 16.35m and had three other jumps over 16 metres in Melbourne.

Three years later, Da Silva also got plaudits in another arena for his portrayal of Death in the award-winning 1959 Brazilian film Orfeu Negro.

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Glenn Davis

Glenn Davis famously won Olympic 400m hurdles titles in 1956 and 1960 but he also holds the unique accolade of being the only man to set world records over one lap of the track both with and without barriers.

At the US Olympic Trials in 1956, as a student at Ohio State University and in his first year at the event, Davis became the first man to run faster than 50 seconds for the 400m hurdles when he ran a world record of 49.5.

At the Olympic Games in Melbourne, he won in 50.1, easing away from the rest of the field at the seventh hurdle.

Four years later in Rome, with his world record having been reduced to 49.2 in 1958, he clocked an Olympic record of 49.3 after taking the lead off the last hurdle to become the first man to retain an Olympic title in his event.

At the 1960 Olympics, he also won a gold medal as part of the US 4x400m relay team, running the third leg and helping the USA set a world record of 3:02.2.

Without hurdles, he set ratified world records for 400m/440 yards, having run 45.8 and then 45.7 for the imperial distances in the summer of 1958.

After finishing his athletics career in the wake of his triumph in Rome, he played two seasons of professional American football in the NFL for the Detroit Lions before becoming a teacher and coach in his adopted home town of Barberton in Ohio.

He died in 2009 at the age of 74.

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Mildred 'Babe' Didriksen Didriksen was much more than just a super-talented athlete and combined her success in the sport with being one of the top basketball players in the United States during the early 1930s.

At the 1932 US Olympic Trials, she qualified in all five events then on the Olympic programme, winning the 80m Hurdles, High Jump and Javelin Throw as well as taking titles in three other events that were not contested at the Olympics in that era.

However, in Los Angeles later that summer, Didriksen was only allowed to compete in three disciplines.

She first won the javelin with 43.69m and then got her second gold medal when she sped to an 80m Hurdles World record of 11.7 - having equalled the existing World record of 11.8 in her heat - before finishing second in the High Jump behind her compatriot Jean Shiley, with both women jumping a World record height of 1.65m. 

After her Olympic triumphs, Didriksen switched sports and became a successful golfer, winning the US Women's Amateur title in 1946 and US Women's Open in 1948, 1950 and 1954. 

Didriksen was sadly to die of cancer in 1956 at the age of 45 but, despite her tragically early death more than 50 years ago, she still remains a sporting legend to this day.

The international news agency Associated Press voted her as the world's greatest female athlete of the first half of the 20th century in 1950 and followed up that honour by naming her as the Woman Athlete of the 20th Century in 1999.
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Harrison Dillard

Harrison Dillard’s story is one that is worthy of a feature film.

Inspired to take up athletics after seeing Jesse Owens honoured by a parade in his native Cleveland following his legendary 1936 Olympic feats, Owens later also gave Dillard his first pair of running spikes.

In 1948, Dillard made the US 100m trio travelling to London for the Olympic Games but, as the World record holder in the 110m Hurdles, his stronger event was over the barriers. He was expected to be one of the leading contenders for the Olympic gold medal later that summer but surprisingly ran a bad race at the US Trails final and failed to qualify in that event.

In London, despite only finishing third at the US Trials, Dillard had a brilliant start in the 100m final and lead all the way to the line, equalling the Olympic record of 10.3 although he had an agonising wait while the judges studied the photo-finish before declaring him the winner.

Four years later, in 1952, Dillard made no mistakes at the US Trails or in Helsinki and he went on to win the 110m Hurdles gold medal in an Olympic record of 13.7.

Dillard was also part of the USA quartets that won the 4x100m gold medals at both the 1948 and 1952 Olympic Games.

He set three World records outdoors, in the 120 yards Hurdles and 220 yards Hurdles on a straight track, and 15 World indoor bests in the 50 and 60 yards Hurdles.

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Heike Drechsler

Many people consider Heike Drechsler to be the leading female long jumper of the 20th century.

She won global titles in the vest of both the former East Germany and then, after reunification, Germany.

When only 18, she took the long jump gold at the inaugural IAAF World Championships in 1983 and, 17 years later, she won the 2000 Olympic title.

In between, in the long jump alone, she triumphed at the 1987 IAAF World Indoor Championships, four successive European Championships from 1986 to 1998, regained her World Championships crown on home soil in Stuttgart in 1993, and won at the 1992 Olympic Games.

She is the only woman to have two Olympic long jump victories to her name.

In addition, Drechsler set two world records of 7.44m and 7.45m in 1985 and 1986, equalling the latter mark later in 1986.

Drechsler was also a formidable sprinter in the first decade of her career before she concentrated mainly on the long jump.

She won 200m gold medals at the 1986 European Championships and 1987 IAAF World Indoor Championships.

At the 1988 Olympics, she got bronze medals in the 100m and 200m in addition to a silver medal in the long jump.

In the longer sprint, Drechsler twice equalled the world record of 21.71 by another 2014 IAAF Hall of Fame inductee, Marita Koch.

Drechsler continued competing internationally until the end of 2004. Since her retirement she has continued to be involved in the sport as an ambassador for many athletics events as well as devoting a lot of time to charitable work.

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Hicham El Guerrouj

Hicham El Guerrouj becomes the youngest man to be inducted into the IAAF Hall of Fame, having just turned 40 in September 2014 and barely a decade after he ran his last international race.

He first came to international attention when he won the 1500m at the 1995 IAAF World Indoor Championships and then took the silver medal at the same distance at the IAAF World Championships the same year.

From that point, he was the dominant middle-distance runner for the next nine years.

El Guerrouj won four successive 1500m titles at the IAAF World Championships from 1997 to 2003.

In 1998, he went to Rome and took 1.37 off Noureddine Morceli’s 1500m world record with a time of 3:26.00, a time which has not been beaten to this day.

The following year, he returned to the Italian capital and successfully attacked Morceli’s mile world record of 3:44.39, clocking a time of 3:43.13, which also remains on the record books 15 years later. 

In 1997, he set still-standing world indoor records of 3:31.18 and 3:48.45 for the 1500m and mile before winning the second of his 1500m world indoor crowns.

El Guerrouj also won the 2001 IAAF World Indoor Championships 3000m title.

He was the male World Athlete of the Year on three consecutive occasions from 2001-03.

He decided to bring the curtain down on his career at the very top at the 2004 Olympics. After disappointments at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics, he won the 1500m in Athens and then the 5000m.

The latter was to be the final competitive race of his career.

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Vladimir Golubnichiy Golubnichiy is one of only a handful of athletes who have competed at five Olympic Games or more and the Ukrainian race walker, who concentrated on the 20km event internationally, can look back to a long and illustrious career at the highest level.

He set his first 20km World record at the age of just 19 in 1955 but he missed the Olympics the following year due to a serious liver infection.

It took a year for him to fully recover but in 1958, after the accolade had passed through the hands of three of his compatriots, Golubnichiy regained the 20km World record with a time of 1:27.05 which was to remain on the books for almost 11 years.

Nevertheless, Golubnichiy was far from the favourite for the 20km walk at the 1960 Olympics after finishing fifth in a trail race but he repaid the Soviet selectors' faith handsomely. 

He was never headed in Rome, after taking the lead just before the halfway point.

Four years later in Tokyo, he had to settle for a bronze medal but in 1968, at altitude in Mexico City, he reinforced his reputation for preparing meticulously for the big occasion when he held off the local hope Jose Pedraza to win by a mere three metres.

Golubnichiy finished second at the 1972 Olympics in Munich but returned to the top step of the podium two years later, winning his first European title.

The curtain came down on his career at major championships when he finished seventh at the 1976 Olympic Games.
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Marjorie Jackson

Marjorie Jackson was the first Australian woman to set an athletics World record and also the first Australian woman to win an Olympic athletics gold medal.

At the age of 17 in 1949, she sensationally beat Fanny Blankers-Koen three times in quick succession on the Dutch legend’s tour of Australia to earn herself the nickname ‘The Lithgow Flash.’

The following year, she equalled Blankers Koen’s 100 yards World record of 10.8, the first of her 13 official World records, and then won the 100 and 220 yards titles at what was then the British Empire Games, and as well as two Relay gold medals.

Later in 1950, she improved her 100 yards record to 10.7 before making headlines around the world when she took 0.3 off that mark in March 1952 with a run of 10.4 in Sydney.

At the 1952 Olympic Games, she had comfortable victories in the 100m and 200m.

In the longer sprint, she set a World record of 23.4 in her semi-final, breaking a mark which had stood for almost 17 years.

At the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games, she defended both her sprint titles and helped Australia to the 4x110 yards Relay title before retiring shortly afterwards to raise a family.

Jackson-Nelson, following her marriage to the Olympic cyclist Peter Nelson in 1953, was one of the eight Olympic flag-bearers at the opening ceremony of the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.

She was also the Governor of South Australia between 2001 and 2007.

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Michael Johnson Michael Johnson went to the 1991 IAAF World Championships unbeaten over 200m for more than a year and he fulfilled his role as favourite to win the first of his nine individual Olympic or World titles.

Illness ruined his chance of another 200m victory at the 1992 Olympics Games, although he was a member of the gold-medal winning USA 4x400m team, but he recovered quickly from that setback to win the 1993 IAAF World Championships 400m in a championship record of 43.65.

At the 1995 IAAF World Championships, Johnson made history when he became the first man to win both the 200m and 400m at a global championship.

He firstly reduced his 400m championship record with a personal best of 43.39 and then regained his 200m title in 19.79. 

Ahead of the 1996 Olympics, his sportswear sponsor famously provided him with an pair of golden spikes but Johnson lived up to his billing in Atlanta.

He cruised to the 400m title in an Olympic record 43.49 and then triumphed over what Americans fans often describe as the furlong in a stunning World record of 19.32.

The latter feat sliced more than three-tenths of a second from the previous mark, which Johnson himself had set on the same track at the US Olympic Trials a month earlier.

Johnson won over 400m again at the 1997 World Championships and then wrote his name in the record books once more in Seville two years later when he took his fourth World title over one lap of the track with a World record 43.18.

He retained his Olympic 400m title in 2000 before retiring at the end of that season.
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Jackie Joyner-Kersee

JJK, as she is widely known, is often considered to be the greatest all-round woman athlete ever and the famous American magazine Sports Illustrated voted her The Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th Century.

Joyner-Kersee won the long jump and heptathlon by huge margins at the 1987 IAAF World Championships and repeated the same double 12 months later at the 1988 Olympic Games.

She added a second heptathlon title at the 1992 Olympics, where she also won a long jump silver medal, and between 1985 and 1991 she won 12 consecutive heptathlon contests.

At the start of the summer of 2012, she had the top six heptathlon points totals and her world record of 7291 points, achieved when she won the first of her Olympic heptathlon titles in Seoul, is a massive 259 points better than anyone else has ever scored.

Joyner-Kersee could always be guaranteed to get an avalanche of points from the long jump, an event at which she also won two world titles in 1987 and 1991. She still lies second in the all-time rankings with her American record of 7.49m.

Her final global title came when she won the heptathlon at the 1993 World Championships.

“She was a fabulous jumper, a world class hurdler, a first rate sprinter, an accomplished thrower and a highly respectable 800m runner. No wonder she dominated the heptathlon for so long,” were the words written in The Magic of Athletics - A Century of Great Moments, which was published in 2000.

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Alberto Juantorena Alberto Juantorena has a special place in Olympic history as the only man in the IAAF era to win both the 400m and 800m at the same Games, a feat he achieved in 1976.

He went to Montreal as the favourite for the shorter distance after going unbeaten over one lap of the track in 1973 and 1974; he had also recovered very well from a foot operation in 1975.

However, first he had the 800m to deal with, a distance at which he only started tackling seriously earlier in 1976 after his coach had encouraged him to extend his range as a way of improving his endurance for the 400m.

Being a relative novice at the event proved to be no handicap though as his giant stride - Juantorena is 1.90m tall - devoured the track in the final and he crossed the line in a World record of 1:43.50.

Four days later, he won the 400m gold medal in 44.26, which at the time was the fastest non-altitude assisted performance.

The following year, Juantorena reduced his 800m World record to 1:43.44 when winning at the World Student Games in Sofia.

He then went on to achieve the same double he had done at the Olympics when winning the 400m and 800m at both the inaugural IAAF World Cup in Düsseldorf and also at the 1978 Central American and Caribbean Games. 

Juantorena is still a very familiar figure at major athletics meetings as he is the President of the Cuban athletics federation and also a member of the IAAF Council.
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Wang Junxia

Wang Junxia was perhaps the most famous member of 'Ma's Army', the group of Chinese female distance runners coached by Ma Junren.

She first came to prominence in April 1993 when she set an Asian marathon record of 2:24.07 in Tianjin before switching her attention to the track and winning the 10,000m at the 1993 IAAF World Championships in Stuttgart.

However, Wang transcended even that notable achievement a few weeks later with a series of remarkable performances on home soil at the Chinese National Games in Beijing.

On 8 September, she took almost 42 seconds off the existing 10,000m world record with a run of 29:31.78. In the subsequent two decades, no one has got within 22 seconds of that time.

Three days later, Wang finished second in the 1500m to Qu Yunxia in 3:51.92, which was inside the 13-year-old world record for the distance; with Qu setting a world record of 3:50.46 which still stands today.

On the following two days, Wang then ran successive 3000m world records of 8:12.29 and 8:06.11 in the heats and final of that event.

In 1994 and 1995, she struggled with a hip injury brought on by her arduous training regime but in 1996 Wang returned to the top again when she was victorious in the 5000m at that summer's Olympic Games, becoming China's first Olympic gold medallist on the track. She also won the 10,000m silver medal in Atlanta.

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Kip Keino Kip Keino, or Hezekiah Kipchoge Keino to give him his full name, was not Kenya's first Olympic gold medallist but he remains his country's most famous.

At the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, Keino had already run in the 10,000m and 5000m, getting a silver medal in the latter, before he went to the start line of the 1500m. However, he showed no tiredness from his earlier races and took the lead on the second lap. 

With an audacious piece of front running, he destroyed the opposition to win by almost three seconds in an Olympic record of 3:34.91, a margin of victory which has still not been beaten at the Games.

Keino had competed at the 1962 Commonwealth Games and the 1964 Olympic Games without success but attracted international attention in 1965 when he set a 3000m World record of 7:39.6 in the Swedish city of Helsingborg. 

Later that year, he added the 5000m World record to his portfolio when he ran 13:24.2 in Auckland, New Zealand.

At the 1972 Olympic Games, he decided to take on a new challenge and entered the 3000m Steeplechase. 

Despite his lack of experience over the barriers, Keino duly won his second Olympic gold medal after a sprint for the line with his compatriot Ben Jipcho and he added a 1500m silver medal six days later.

After retiring from international competition in 1975, Keino has become a member of the International Olympic Committee and still remains closely involved with Kenyan athletics, having built schools, an orphanage and an elite training facility for athletes.
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Marita Koch

Marita Koch amassed a set of staggering sprinting statistics during her career.

In addition to the 1980 Olympic Games 400m gold medal and the three gold medals from the inaugural IAAF World Championships in 1983, winning the 200m and being part of victorious East Germany teams in both relays, she set no fewer than 16 world records outdoors and 17 world bests indoors at a variety of distances from 50m to 400m.

She first came to international attention when winning the European indoor title over 400m in 1977 and there then followed almost a decade of stunning successes.

In 1978, she won the first of her three 400m gold medals at the European Championships. Two years later she triumphed at the Olympics in Moscow.

She would have been the favourite to defend her title but for the Soviet bloc boycott of the 1984 Olympics.

In total, Koch won 17 gold medals at major international championships and had wins over 200m and 400m at the 1985 IAAF World Cup.

The latter is, for many people, one of the greatest single athletics performances ever.

Koch ran 47.60 in Canberra for a world record that still stands today, almost three decades later.

She also remains the joint-holder of the European 200m record with 21.71, recorded in 1979 and 1984, which were both world records at the time.

She retired at the start of the 1987 season, after winning her third European title over one lap of the track the previous summer, because of achilles injuries.

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Hannes Kolehmainen

Juho Pietari ‘Hannes’ Kolehmainen was the first of the famous Flying Finns who made their mark at distance running during the 20th century.

At the 1912 Olympic Games, he became the first man to run under 15 minutes for the 5000m, taking almost half a minute off the previous mark when he set the first official IAAF World record over the distance with 14:36.6, after a thrilling duel with France’s Jean Bouin.

His 5000m win in Stockholm came two days after his 10,000m victory. Five days later, he also won the Cross Country race individual gold medal over approximately 12,000m.

Shortly after his Stockholm feats, he moved to the USA; while living in New York and plying his trade as a stone mason, he continued to race and amassed various national titles there.

In 1920, in the wake of World War II, Kolehmainen travelled from his adopted home to Antwerp and won the Olympic Games Marathon in a World best time.

Later that year, during a visit to Finland, he ran a 25,000m World record of 1:26:29.6 in Tampere.

In 1922, having become a naturalised US citizen the previous year, he returned to Tampere and improved that time by almost 10 seconds.

The last of his six official World records came in October 1922, and was again in Finland when he ran 30,000m in 1:47:13.4.

Two of his brothers were also well-known runners and set World bests.

Kolehmainen, having resettled in Finland after his running career, died in 1966 in Helsinki at the age of 76.

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Robert Korzeniowski

Robert Korzeniowski has a strong argument to be considered the world’s greatest ever race walker.

The Pole won an unprecedented three successive Olympic 50km race walk gold medals from 1996 to 2004. He is also the only man to win both men’s race walks at a single Games when he completed the double and took the 20km honours at the 2000 Olympics.

He won three world titles in the 50km event in 1997, 2001 and 2003, and continental titles also came his way as he won the 1998 and 2002 European 50km.

The latter was especially memorable as he set a world best of 3:36:39 in Munich before improving this mark the following year to a ratified world record of 3:36:03 at the IAAF World Championships in Paris.

In the early part of his career, Korzeniowski had a reputation as an unfulfilled talent.

He was disqualified or failed to finish the 50km race walk at both the 1991 and 1993 World Championships, and was disqualified at the 1992 Olympics while in second place, just before he entered the stadium.

However, following his first major championship medal on the roads – although he had got a silver medal in the 1991 IAAF World Indoor Championships 5000m race walk – when he got the 50km bronze at the 1995 World Championships, he was almost unbeatable in the longest event on the championship programme until his retirement.

The only blemish on his 50km record at major championships from 1996 onwards was a disqualification at the 1999 IAAF World Championships.

He retired shortly after the 2004 Olympic Games.

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Stefka Kostadinova Kostadinova first came to international attention as a 19-year-old when she won at the 1985 IAAF World Indoor Games, the forerunner to the IAAF World Indoor Championships.

The following year she set two outdoor World records when she cleared 2.07m and then 2.08m within six days at the end of May at separate meetings in Sofia, followed by a gold medal at that summer's European Athletics Championships in Stuttgart.

However, those feats were to be topped by her performance at the 1987 IAAF World Championships.

In a thrilling competition with former World record holder Tamara Bykova, her Soviet rival took the lead when she went over 2.04m with her first effort and Kostadinova needed three jumps at that height. 

However, Kostadinova went over 2.06m at the second time of asking while Bykova failed twice.

Having watched Bykova unsuccessfully use her remaining attempt at 2.08m, Kostadinova had the bar raised to 2.09m, which she negotiated on her second attempt.

After her Rome heroics, she won a silver medal at the 1988 Olympic Games but more outdoor success eluded her - despite further victories at the World Indoor Championships and European Athletics Indoor Championships - until the 1995 World Championships, which she won just a few months after the birth of her son Nikolay.

The 1996 Olympic title completed her list of triumphs at all major international competitions.

At the 1997 IAAF World Indoor Championships, she won her fifth title at the event and subsequently announced her retirement two years later.

Kostadinova continues to this day to be involved in sport and has been the President of the Bulgarian Olympic Committee since 2005.
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Carl Lewis

One of the best ways of understanding the huge impact that Carl Lewis has had on athletics is to look at the accolades that were bestowed on him after he retired from the sport.

Among them, he was named as the male athlete of the 20th century by the IAAF in 1999 and also Sportsman of the Century by the International Olympic Committee.

Lewis won nine gold medals at four Olympic Games and eight at the IAAF World Championships.

He not only equalled Jess Owens' record of four golds at a single Olympics, winning the 100m, 200m, long jump and being part of the US quartet that won the 4x100m relay at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, but he also won the long jump at four consecutive Games from 1984 to 1996.

Lewis' amazing medal haul on the global stage started at the inaugural IAAF World Championships in 1983 when he won the 100m, long jump and 4x100m.

He defended all three of his world titles in 1987 and the following year retained his Olympic 100m and long jump crowns in Seoul.

At the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo, Lewis once again stood on top of the podium after the 100m and 4x100m but he was also part of a famous long jump duel with his team mate Mick Powell, arguably one of the best field event contests ever, in which the latter broke Bob Beamon's seemingly unbeatable world record to end Lewis's winning streak of 65 long jump competitions.

Lewis also set three 100m world records and was part of six world record-setting 4x100m teams.

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Nataliya Lisovskaya

Lisovskaya was the dominant female shot putter in the world in the second half of the 1980s, winning at the 1987 IAAF World Championships and then the 1988 Olympic Games, as well as at the 1985 World Indoor Games and 1987 World Indoor Championships.

She took the World University Games titles in 1983 and 1985 and also won at the 1985 IAAF World Cup.

Her Olympic victory in Seoul was one of the most authoritative displays of shot putting ever seen on the global stage, winning by more than a metre with 22.24m. All six of her efforts would have won the gold medal.

Lisovskaya also set three World records during her career, and the last one of 22.63m has remained unchallenged to this day since she reached that distance at the famous Znamensky Memorial meeting in Moscow on 7 June 1987.

She currently has the best four competitions by any woman ever to her name and threw over 22 metres in no less than seven contests.

Her last major championship was the 1992 Olympic Games, when she finished ninth, the first time she had missed out on the podium and a global or continental event since the 1986 European Athletics Championships.

After taking a hiatus from the sport, including giving birth to her daughter and 2010 Youth Olympic Games Hammer gold medallist Alexia in 1993, Lisovskaya returned to the circle again in 1999 and was still throwing well over 16 metres at the age of 40.
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Janis Lusis

Janis Lusis, who hailed from Latvia but competed in the colours of the former Soviet Union, won four javelin gold medals at the European Championships between 1962 and 1971, a complete set of Olympic medals – gold in 1968, silver in 1972 and bronze in 1964 – as well as setting two world records.

He first came to prominence at the 1962 European Championships when, just 23, he won by almost four metres with a championship record of 82.04m.

A model of high-level consistency for almost a decade, he was to dominate the continental event for another three editions winning with distances of 84.48m, 91.52m and 90.68m in 1966, 1969 and 1971 respectively; in each case triumphing by several metres.

At the 1968 Olympics, Lusis started as the favourite having finally acquired the world record a few months before with a throw of 91.96m in Finland. 

In a thrilling contest in Mexico City, he fulfilled his role after a last- round effort and Olympic record of 90.10m secured him the gold medal.

The world record changed hands in the next four years but it was back in Lusis’s possession by the time of the next Olympic Games, with a distance of 93.80m which he had thrown in Stockholm earlier in 1972.

He almost managed to successfully defend his Olympic title in Munich but eventually had to settle for the silver medal by just two centimetres, the smallest margin in the history of the Games.

Lusis finished his major championship career with sixth place at the 1974 European Championships and eighth at the 1976 Olympic Games.

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Svetlana Masterkova

Prior to her fantastic 1996 season, Masterkova was best known as an 800m runner, having reached the 1991 IAAF World Championships final and as well as winning the 1993 IAAF World Indoor Championships silver medal.

However, injuries and birth of her daughter Anastasiya saw her take two years out of the sport in 1994 and 1995 and, on her return to on her return in 1996, she decided to also run the 1500m, a distance she had not raced since she was a teenager.

After a series of 800m races in the first half of 1996, including finishing third at the European Athletics Indoor Championships, she had her first competitive 1500m for more than a decade and was a surprise winner at the Russian championships.

Masterkova’s next outing was at the Olympic Games in Atlanta.

She dominated her three 800m races, winning the final in 1:57.95 before embarking on the second half of her double.

After more cautious runs in her 1500m heat and semi-final, she unleashed a 60.0 last lap in the final and crossed the line in 4:00.83 and clinch her second gold medal in six days.

Later in 1996, she set World records over 1000m and the Mile, marks of 2:28.98 and 4:12.56 which still stand today.

She was deservedly chosen as the 1996 World Athlete of the Year.

Masterkova went on to take 1500m gold medals at the 1998 European Athletics Championships and 1999 World Championships before retiring in 2000 after the Olympic Games that year.

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Bob Mathias

Bob Mathias was only 17 when a coach at Tulare Union High School in California suggested he should give the decathlon a go.

The rest is history.

In his first decathlon, he qualified for the US Olympic Trials, then he won at the US Olympic Trials to win a place on the team going to London.

In only his third decathlon, which famously finished late at night with cars being driven into the stadium to illuminate the athletes during the final two disciplines, Mathias triumphed at the 1948 Olympic Games with 7139 points on the contemporary scoring tables.

Mathias remains the youngest ever winner of an athletics gold medal at the Olympic Games.

Showing it was no fluke, while studying at Stanford University in 1950, he went on to set a world record of 8042 on the scoring tables then in use.

Another world record came his way at the 1952 US Olympic Trials before he set his final world record of 7887 in Helsinki, on the tables that were introduced at the end on 1950, when he became the first person to retain the Olympic decathlon title, and he did so by the massive margin of 912 points.

He retired from competitive athletics after the 1952 Olympics. In total, Mathias won all 11 decathlons he contested.

Later in life, he became a US marine and then an actor before entering politics. He served for eight years between 1967 and 1975 as a congressman in the US House of Representatives.

He died of cancer in 2006 at the age of 75.

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Noureddine Morceli

Morceli was the fastest man in the world over 1500m in 1990.

The following year, he confirmed his status with a 1500m victory at the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Sevilla, just 10 days after having set a World indoor record of 3:34.16 on the same track.

In the summer of 1991, he won the first of his three consecutive 1500m gold medals at the IAAF World Championships, defending his crown in 1993 and 1995.

However, an Olympic Games gold medal was to elude him for a few years.

In 1992, as the favourite in Barcelona and having set a 1000m World indoor record at the start of the year, he had a poor race in the final and finished seventh. However, he ran the first of his five World outdoor records with 3:28.68 for 1500m in the Italian town of Rieti at the end of that season.

Morceli then reduced the Mile World record to 3:44.39 in 1993 and took the 3000m mark down to 7:25.11 in 1994.

He won 10 out of his 11 races in 1994, his only defeat coming over 800m, and was chosen as the World Athlete of the Year.

He then ran a 2000m World record of 4:47.88 in July 1995, nine days before he improved on his own 1500m record with a run of 3:27.37 in Nice.

In 1996, Morceli finally captured the Olympic 1500m title. He retired from international competition after the 2000 Olympic Games, where he reached the 1500m semi-finals.

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Edwin Moses

The prestigious American periodical Track and Field News named Moses as the outstanding 400m hurdler of the 20th century and there are few who would disagree with that choice.

Moses won gold medals at the 1976 and 1984 Olympic Games and would have been the prohibitive favourite to triumph in Moscow had the United States not boycotted the 1980 Olympics.

Between 1977 and 1987 - for nine years, nine months and nine days - Moses was undefeated and won 107 consecutive finals in his event (122 consecutive races in total) as well as revising the 400m hurdles world record four times.

During that winning streak, he also won gold medals at the 1983 and 1987 IAAF World Championships and triumphed at the 1977, 1979 and 1981 IAAF World Cups.

His final world record of 47.02 was set in the German city of Koblenz in 1983 and stood for the next nine years; and only one man has run faster since Moses retired in 1989.                                                    

During his competitive days, Moses was also a strong advocate for the reform of the rules relating to financial compensation for amateur athletes as well as being an articulate anti-drug campaigner.

For his immense contribution to sport in general, not just athletics, he was chosen to recite the Athletes' Oath during the opening ceremony of the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

Moses has remained in the public eye in the 21st century as the Chairman of the Laureus World Sports Academy and Sport for Good Foundation.

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Paavo Nurmi

The statistics for Nurmi make incredible reading.

He won nine Olympic gold medals and set no less than 22 official, as well as 13 unofficial, world records in distance running events.

At the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp, he triumphed over 10,000m on the track and took individual and team gold medals in the cross country race.

Four years later, Nurmi was at his peak and invincible. Three weeks before his first event at the Olympics, he set 1500m and 5000m world records in Helsinki with the gun going on the races only 55 minutes apart.

Under the same conditions as his test, he won the 1500m and 5000m in Paris in less than an hour.

Two days later defended his cross country titles before getting his fifth gold medal in four days in the 3000m team race.

Nurmi also wanted to run the 10,000m but Finnish officials refused to enter him, fearing for his health if he ran in too many races.

However, he showed what he was capable of over the distance seven weeks after his last race in Paris and sliced 17 seconds off the world record, a mark which was to last for almost 13 years.

He regained his 10,000m Olympic crown in Amsterdam four years later and also got 5000m and 3000m steeplechase silver medals there.

In 1952, when Helsinki staged the Olympic Games. Nurmi was given the honour of lighting the Olympic flame and Finland showed their further appreciation of his achievements when he was given a state funeral upon his death in 1973.

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Dan O'Brien Dan O'Brien had been recognised as an outstanding multi-event talent for several years but he rose to being the number one exponent in the world in 1991 when he won at the IAAF World Championships.

In Tokyo, he amassed a championship record 8812 points and only a poor High Jump prevented him from breaking the World record held by Britain's Daley Thompson.

He infamously failed to clear a height in the Pole Vault at the 1992 US Olympic Trials and missed out on a trip to Barcelona but bounced back from that huge disappointment to set a World record of 8891 points in the French town of Talence at the end of the summer.

The following year, he defended his World title in Stuttgart and improved his championship record to 8817 points.

O'Brien then acquired his third global Decathlon crown in Göteborg two years later. Although he was not at his best compared to his two previous triumphs, neither were his main rivals and his score of 8695 points was still sufficient to win by more than 200 points.

Despite his three IAAF World Championships gold medals and his World record, 1996 was to provide perhaps the defining moment of his career.

He made amends for four years before and gained redemption when he won the Olympic gold medal in in Atlanta with a total of 8824 points, the second best legal performance of his career.

O'Brien also won the Heptathlon title at the 1993 World Indoor Championships in Toronto, setting a World record of 6476 points which was to last one day short of 17 years until 2010.
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Parry O'Brien

Few athletes can say that they have redefined their discipline in the way that Parry O’Brien did with the Shot Put.

In the early 1950s, he revolutionised the event’s technique by starting his attempts facing the back of the circle. He then turned 180 degrees, using the rotation to generate momentum.

It is a technique still widely used today and helped O’Brien set 10 official World records in a six-year period from 1953 to 1959, 18.00m being his first and 19.25m his last.

He won the 1952 Olympic Games gold medal, at the age of 20 while still a student at the University of Southern California, and then defended his title four years later in Melbourne, on both occasions setting Olympic records.

O’Brien added to his medal collection when took the Olympic silver medal in 1960. He finished fourth on his final appearance at the Olympic Games in 1964, when he was the USA flag bearer in the opening ceremony.

Between July 1952 and June 1956, O’Brien had 116 consecutive victories, one of the greatest winning streaks in the sport.

One of those wins, his World record of 18.42m recorded at a meeting in Los Angeles in May 1954 was a particular landmark, especially for American fans and the media, as it was the first put over 60 feet.

O’Brien continued competing after his retirement from international competition, throwing almost 18 metres at the age of 50. He died in 2007 at the age of 75.

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Al Oerter

Discus thrower Oerter became the first man in the history of the Olympics to win four consecutive gold medals in the same event when he won at the 1968 Games in Mexico City, following on from his victories in 1956, 1960 and 1964.

However, each triumph had a different complexion to it.

In 1956, and aged just 20, little was expected of him but, inspired by the atmosphere, he produced a personal best and Olympic record of 58.36m in the first round and nobody could challenge that mark. He remains the youngest Olympic gold medallist in the event.

Four years later in Rome, he was the favourite but was under pressure after losing at the US Olympic Trials and in second place after four rounds. However, Oerter finally found his best form with his penultimate throw, which he tossed out to another personal best and Olympic record of 59.18m.

At the 1964 Olympics, Oerter had to wear a brace to help with a long-standing neck injury and was suffering from a torn rib cartilage. He also had to face the Czech thrower Ludovic Danek who had a 45-competition winning-streak prior to arriving in Tokyo.

Battling against the pain, Oerter sent the discus out to another Olympic record of 61.00m in the fifth round to secure his third win.

In Mexico City, Oerter shrugged off the distraction of his event being delayed by a downpour and threw yet another personal best and Olympic record of 64.78m to write his name in the history books.

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Jesse Owens

Jesse Owens will always be remembered for his symbolic four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.

However, for athletics fans he has a special place among the legends of the sport for two additional feats: setting six world records within one hour and also establishing a long jump world record that was to last more than 25 years.

Still a student at Ohio State University, on 25 May 1935 he ran 100 yards in 9.4, 10 minutes later flew out to 8.13m in the long jump, then sped to a 220 yards time of 20.3 (which was also a 200m world record) and finally covered the 220 yards hurdles in 22.6, which was also a world record for its metric equivalent; all achieved in no more than 60 minutes.

His long jump record was the first leap over eight metres and was not beaten until 1960.

Just over a year later in Berlin, Owens won Olympic gold medals in the 100m, 200m, long jump and 4x100m relay, a record four golds at a single Games which was not equalled until his compatriot Carl Lewis won the same quartet of disciplines in 1984.

The long jump was notable for Owens' friendship with local hero Luz Long, which provided a universal image of sportsmanship.

Long famously helped Owens adjust his run up during the qualifying competition to ensure that he made the final after two fouls had put the latter on the brink of elimination, despite the fact that the American was his main rival.

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Marie-José Pérec

Pérec won the 1989 European indoor 200m title but burst through to global prominence when she won the 1991 IAAF World Championships 400m gold medal.

The following year, she won again over one lap of the track at the 1992 Olympic Games, and after focusing solely on the 200m in 1993, in which she finished fourth at the 1993 World Championships, she returned to the longer sprint the following year and took the European Athletics Championships 400m gold medal as well as helping the French 4x400m quartet to victory.

She regained her World 400m title in 1995. However, the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta were the crowning point of her career.

Pérec became the first 400m runner, man or women to retain her title, setting an Olympic record of 48.25. Three days after her first triumph, she added the 200m title to her list of honours.

During her career, she set 16 French records, including four at the 400m Hurdles when she experimented with the event in 1995. Pérec retired from athletics in 2000.

Pérec is today a prominent member of Champions for Peace, a group of more than 70 famous elite sportsmen and women committed to aiding peace in the world through sport, working under the auspices of Peace and Sport.

In October 2013, Pérec was awarded the Officier de la Légion d'honneur by French President François Hollande in the Élysée Palace and he described her as, "one of the most brilliant athletes in the history of French athletics".

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Wilma Rudolph

After a sickly childhood, which included losing the use of her left leg and wearing a leg brace between the ages of six and nine, Wilma Rudolph blossomed into a high school basketball star.

But, as a 16-year-old, she also qualified for the 1956 Olympics and was part of the USA team that won the 4x100m bronze medals.

After giving birth to a daughter in 1958, she went to the 1959 Pan-American Games and won a 4x100m gold medal and 100m silver. But a 200m world record of 22.9 two months before the 1960 Olympics advertised that she was going to be difficult to beat in Rome.

She equalled the world record of 11.3 in her 100m semi-final and then won the final by three metres in a wind-assisted 11.0.

In the 200m, she broke the Olympic record with 23.2 in her heat and then won the final into a strong breeze in 24.0.

In the 4x100m, despite a poor final baton change, Rudolph surged into the lead and anchored the USA to the gold medals in 44.5 after they had set a world record of 44.4 in the semi-finals.

The following July, Rudolph set two world records in five days. She anchored a USA 4x100m team to a time of 44.3 in Moscow and then finally made the 100m world record her own with 11.2 in Stuttgart.

Rudolph retired from competition in 1962 at the age of 22, later becoming a teacher and community leader. She sadly died from brain cancer in 1994 at the age of just 54.

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Viktor Saneyev

Saneyev is one of just six athletes who have won three consecutive Olympic titles or more in an individual discipline.

His first gold medal came in the rarefied atmosphere of Mexico City in 1968 in an amazing competition which saw the World record change hands four times between three different men, with Saneyev bounding out to 17.39m with his final effort to secure the victory.

Four years later in Munich, Saneyev took control of the competition with his first leap, a wind-assisted effort of 17.35m, and no one else could better that distance.

At the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, the Georgian edged in front with a leap of 17.06m in the third round but then was displaced from pole position in the next round before responding with a winning leap of 17.29m.

He almost made it a quartet of victories at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow but eventually had to settle for the silver medal behind his compatriot Jaak Uudmae.

On the continental stage, Saneyev was the European champion outdoors in 1969 and 1974 and won at the European Indoor Championships six times during the 1970s.

In addition to his two World records in Mexico City, where he jumped 17.23m in third round before his winning leap with his last effort, he also set a World record of 17.44m in October 1972 in his home city of Sukhumi, which remained his personal best.

After retirement, Saneyev became a successful coach in the former USSR and then Australia.

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Yuriy Sedykh

Yuriy Sedykh had a top-level career as a hammer thrower spanning almost two decades, from winning the 1973 European junior title to taking the gold medal at the 1991 IAAF World Championships.

In between these two points on the calendar, Sedykh won the 1976 and 1980 Olympic Games gold medals, and took a silver medal in 1988.

He also finished second at the 1983 World Championships and took three consecutive European titles in 1978, 1982 and 1986; the only man ever to do so in his event.

His last European Championships triumph came in the German city of Stuttgart and Sedykh memorably acquired the last of his six World records – he had also won the 1980 Olympic title on home soil with what was then a World record of 81.80m – when he launched his implement out to the staggering distance of 86.74m.

Almost 30 years later, it remains the World record.

His only World title came in Tokyo five years after his stunning feats in Stuttgart. At 36, he finally won the only honour that had eluded him. Sedykh took the lead immediately with 81.38m and improved in the second round to his winning distance of 81.70m and won by nearly a metre.

This was to be his last major championship appearance, but he continued throwing at a high level for another decade.

Sedykh now lives in Paris and his daughter Alexia won the Hammer gold medal for France at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games.

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Peter Snell New Zealand has a fantastic tradition of middle and long distance athletes, from the 1936 Olympic Games 1500m champion Jack Lovelock to Nick Willis in the modern era, but perhaps the greatest of all to wear the famous all-black kit is Peter Snell.

Snell arrived in Rome for the 1960 Olympic Games as a complete outsider for the 800m but showed his potential when he won his semi-final, beating Belgium's World record holder Roger Moens.

In the final, he repeated that feat to take the gold medal with a dramatic burst of speed over the final 30 metres, winning in an Olympic record of 1:46.3.

In 1962, Snell then set World records for the 800m and the Mile in the same week, clocking 1:44.3 - which saw him improve Moens' record by no less than 1.4 seconds - and 3:54.4 respectively. 

He also won the 1962 Commonwealth titles over 880 yards and the Mile.

By the summer of 1964, Snell was the clear favourite for the Olympic 800m and 1500m, a double which had last been done by Britain's Albert Hill in 1920.

Both finals in the Japanese capital were won in similar fashion, by a devastating burst of acceleration midway along the back straight on the final lap.

Snell reduced his 800m Olympic record to 1:45.1. He then won the 1500m gold medal, his sixth race in eight days, in 3:38.1 and crossed the line a full 1.5 seconds ahead of his nearest rival.

After his triumph in Tokyo, in November 1964, he reduced his Mile world record to 3:54.1 on home soil in Auckland.
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Shirley Strickland de la Hunty

Shirley Strickland was one of Australia’s most successful ever Olympic competitors, winning medals at three successive Games from 1948 to 1956.

She got bronze medals in the 100m and 80m hurdles at her first Olympic Games in London, as well as a silver medal in the 4x100m relay.

After winning three gold medals at the 1950 British Empire Games, in the 80m hurdles and the two medley relays, she went from strength to strength in the next two years.

At the 1952 Olympics, after taking the bronze medal in the 100m, she equalled Fanny Blankers-Koen’s 80m hurdles world record of 11.0 in her heat and was then a convincing winner in the final in a world record time.

In 1955, now a mother, she set a 100m world record of 11.3 in Warsaw.

On home soil at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, she became one of the heroines of those Games, retaining her 80m hurdles title in an Olympic record of 10.7 and then, three days later, she ran the first leg for an Australian team that won the 4x100m in a world record of 44.5.

She retired from international athletics after the 1956 Olympics in order to concentrate on her family and work as a lecturer.

In later life, she was involved with Australian team management at the 1968 and 1972 Olympic Games and was also one of the Olympic torch bearers at the opening ceremony of the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

She died in 2004 at the age of 78 and was honoured with a state funeral.

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Irena Szewinska

Szewinska is one of the most successful and multi-talented athletes of all time.

Her fantastic international career started at the 1964 Olympics Games in Tokyo where, as an 18-year-old competing under her maiden name of Irena Kirszenstein, she was part of Poland's victorious 4x100m relay team and also won silver medals in the 200m and long jump.

Four years later, at the Olympics in Mexico City, she got a bronze medal in the 100m and in 1972 she added to her medal collection with a 200m bronze medal.

However, in 1973 she discovered the event with which she is most usually associated.

Switching to the 400m, she quickly proved very adept at the new distance. The following year she became the first woman to break 50 seconds over one lap of the track.

She won the 400m in the 1976 Olympic Games in another World record of 49.28. Between 1974 and the 1978 European Athletic Championships, she won 34 consecutive 400m finals.

In addition to her Olympic Games successes, on the continental stage she won five gold medals at the European Athletics Championships, including a triple triumph in the 200m, Long Jump and 4x100m in 1966.

The curtain came down on her stunning career at the 1980 Olympics when she was eliminated in semi-finals when she pulled a muscle.

Szewinska broke 10 World records and is the only athlete, either male or female, to have held a World record in the 100m, 200m and the 400m events.

She is currently a member of the International Olympic Committee and also the IAAF Council.

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Daley Thompson

Between 1978 and 1986, Thompson won the Decathlon at eight major championships, gaining a reputation not only as a supremely talented and exuberant all-rounder but a man who could rise to the occasion.

Born Francis Morgan Oyodélé Thompson but universally known as Daley, he won Olympic Games gold medals in 1980 and 1984, was victorious at the inaugural 1983 IAAF World Championships, took the European title in 1982 and 1986, and won three successive Commonwealth Games gold medals in 1978, 1982 and 1986.

After his victory in Helsinki at the World Championships, until his loss in Rome four years later, he was in possession of every major championship Decathlon title and nobody has since repeated his feat of having all four crowns simultaneously to their name.

Thompson also set four World records. His last two, 8774 and 8847 points on the current scoring tables, were achieved at the 1982 European Athletics Championships and 1984 Olympic Games.

His phenomenal run of success only came to an end when he suffered a groin injury in 1987 and could only place ninth in the defence of his World title. He retired from international athletics in 1992.

Thompson had shown his talent as a multi-event exponent at an early age, with four World junior records in 1976 and 1977 as well as winning the 1977 European junior title.

In recent years, he has been an ambassador for the London 2012 Olympic Games and also been involved in a variety of charitable projects.


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Lasse Viren

Lasse Viren can look back on a career that had as its highlights four Olympic gold medals and three world records.

Viren, then a policeman, gave notice that he would be a man to watch at the 1972 Olympics when, just over two weeks before the start of the Games, he beat a stellar field and set a two miles world record in Stockholm, the distance having official record status at the time.

In Munich, despite tripping up just before halfway in the 10,000m, Viren pushed the pace from 600 metres out to triumph in a world record time of 27:38.4.

Ten days later, Viren was able to respond to the attack by Steve Prefontaine with four laps to go in the 5000m and took the lead coming into the home straight before crossing the line in an Olympic record of 13:26.4.

Returning home, four days after his second gold medal, Viren ran a 5000m world record of 13:16.4 in Helsinki.

Viren’s results were modest in the intervening years, his best being a 5000m bronze medal at the 1974 European Championships, but he was back to top form in 1976 in time for the next Olympics.

He successfully defended his 10,000m crown with relative ease, winning by 30 metres in 27:40.38.

Four days later, he had to battle much harder for his 5000m victory but, with six men still in contention at the bell, Viren had enough in hand to win in 13:24.76 and become the first repeat winner of the event.

Later in life, Viren became a member of the Finnish parliament.

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Grete Waitz

Waitz is widely acknowledged as being one of the pioneers of long distance running for women.

Prior to moving to longer distances she enjoyed success as a 1500m and 3000m runner, winning bronze medals at the 1974 and 1978 European Athletics Championships.

However, 1978 marked a change of direction, from track to road, and especially the Marathon.

Waitz was invited to run the 1978 New York City Marathon and in her first appearance she took over two minutes off the women's world best.

In 1979, she returned to New York and lowered that standard further by almost five minutes and improved again in the same race when she won the 1980 edition in 2:25:41.

She advanced the women’s world best to 2:25:29 when winning the 1983 London Marathon and later that year won the Marathon at the inaugural 1983 IAAF World Championships by three minutes.

However, at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles she had to settle for the silver medal.

In total, Waitz won 13 of her 19 Marathons, including the 1986 London Marathon in her personal best of 2:24:54, although by then the world best was in other hands.

Waitz was also an outstanding cross country runner and won the IAAF World Cross Country Championships five times from 1978-81, part of a 12-year unbeaten streak, and also in 1983; as well as taking the two bronze medals in 1982 and 1984.

She tragically died in 2011 of cancer at the age of just 57.

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Cornelius Warmerdam

World War II deprived US pole vaulter Cornelius Warmerdam of his chance of Olympic glory due to  the cancellation of the 1940 and 1944 Games. By 1948, while he could potentially still have been a gold medal contender, he was coaching professionally and ineligible.

Nevertheless, Warmerdam’s place as one of the pole vault greats is secure.

During his career, when he competed solely on bamboo poles, Warmerdam dominated his event in the early 1940s.

He was the first man to clear the imperial height of 15 feet (4.57m) and he did so no fewer than 43 times in competition at a time when no other vaulter had cleared that mark.

Between 1940 and 1943, Warmerdam jumped world record heights on seven occasions and three of those marks were ratified by the IAAF.

His highest outdoor vault was 4.77m at the Modesto Relays in 1942, a record which stood until 1957.

Indoors, he went over a world best of 4.79m in 1943, a mark which was not bettered under cover for another 16 years and he improved the world indoor best on six occasions.

He won the prestigious James E Sullivan Award in 1942, given to the most outstanding amateur sportsperson in the USA, and later became a member of the USATF Hall of Fame.

Commonly known as ‘Dutch’ to fans and the media alike because of his parents being immigrants from the Netherlands, Warmerdam grew up in California, attended Fresno State University and then coached there after his competitive days were over.

He died in 2001.

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Emil Zatopek

Over the years, there have been plenty of debates about who is the greatest distance runner ever but one name that is always mentioned is that of Emil Zatopek.

The charismatic Czech soldier, already known to his many fans as The Human Locomotive for his relentlessly hard training and his success at the 1948 Olympic Games where he won the 10,000m gold medal, achieved a unique treble at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki.

He won the 5000m, 10,000m and marathon; a feat which had never been achieved before or since.

The 10,000m in the Finnish capital was a relatively easy affair for Zatopek, winning with an Olympic record and by nearly 16 seconds.

His next event, the 5000m, was a more difficult contest. Four men were still in contention with 250 metres to go but Zatopek's superior sprint finish prevailed as he won in another Olympic record.

Despite his proven talent on the track, Zatopek had never run a marathon before but his lack of experience proved to be almost irrelevant en-route to his third gold medal.

He was on his own for the final six miles and came home over two-and-a-half-minutes in front of his nearest rival, completing his final lap around the Olympic stadium to the resounding cheers of “Za-to-pek, Za-to-pek”.

In addition to his gold medals, which also included three European titles, the popular Zatopek - with his fellow competitors as well as the general public - also set 18 world records during his illustrious career.

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