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.http://media.aws.iaaf.org/media/LargeP/3420ae47-c06b-42e1-9f66-0a2f6776e54c.jpg?v=-2086036559 /athletes/athlete=259458
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.http://media.aws.iaaf.org/media/LargeP/94171347-e10f-424b-b4c4-471ba47564f4.jpg?v=1749435873 /athletes/athlete=286869
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.http://media.aws.iaaf.org/media/LargeP/f7666b90-7aaa-458b-93b7-46bedc0d428f.jpg?v=-1782773391 /athletes/athlete=286870
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. http://media.aws.iaaf.org/media/LargeP/a99b21af-f660-48a7-a94f-d73b7d9eff10.jpg?v=743021794 /athletes/athlete=61102
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.http://media.aws.iaaf.org/media/LargeP/20730385-5725-4346-a8f1-3dc41ada9018.jpg?v=1797265994 /athletes/athlete=62743
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.http://media.aws.iaaf.org/media/LargeP/133f2020-6968-49c9-b41c-0d45b902f0eb.jpg?v=432995650 /athletes/athlete=1936
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.http://media.aws.iaaf.org/media/LargeP/704dffaa-5baa-4a63-bcb7-3f1d1d42b0e5.jpg?v=986637746 /athletes/athlete=228136
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".http://media.aws.iaaf.org/media/LargeP/1c18f7a4-ac6e-47b7-ac12-cea8f40bc16b.jpg?v=-1284821711 /athletes/athlete=63353
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.http://media.aws.iaaf.org/media/LargeP/644bdd4f-246b-42e1-9ed7-0ec300e704d8.jpg?v=-1606326647 /athletes/athlete=8373
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.http://media.aws.iaaf.org/media/LargeP/bf105140-177c-422e-86d4-897135a0f673.jpg?v=2075406642 /athletes/athlete=2600
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.
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.http://media.aws.iaaf.org/media/LargeP/6e0198e9-6689-4e85-be5b-acfe84b07a88.jpg?v=2112714849 /athletes/athlete=63544