• 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
  • 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
  • IAAF Hall of Fame - Mildred 'Babe' Didriksen (USA) (Getty Images) Mildred 'Babe' Didriksen USA USA 2012 | 80m hurdles, javelin, high jump
  • IAAF Hall of Fame - Vladimir Golubnichiy (USSR/UKR) (Getty Images) Vladimir Golubnichiy URS URS 2012 | 20km race walk
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • Irena Szewinska - IAAF Hall of Fame (Getty Images) Irena Szewinska POL POL 2012 | 100m, 200m, 400m, long jump
  • 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. /athletes/athlete=243695
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. /athletes/athlete=270935
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. /athletes/athlete=270936
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. /athletes/athlete=365
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. /athletes/athlete=519
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. /athletes/athlete=270937
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. /athletes/athlete=255709
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. /athletes/athlete=273354
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. /athletes/athlete=272659
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. /athletes/athlete=1308
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. /athletes/athlete=62683
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. /athletes/athlete=6164
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. /athletes/athlete=67840
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. /athletes/athlete=198551
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. /athletes/athlete=60986
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. /athletes/athlete=1622
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. /athletes/athlete=1960
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. /athletes/athlete=270933
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. /athletes/athlete=4204
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. /athletes/athlete=7550
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. /athletes/athlete=270934
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. /athletes/athlete=7136
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. /athletes/athlete=64878
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. /athletes/athlete=198350