Three gold medallists from the 1980 Olympic Games – Allan Wells, Marita Koch and Volker Beck – spoke to the press in Monaco ahead of the 2013 World Athletics Gala.
Wells, who took the 100m gold in Moscow 33 years ago, said that attending this year’s World Championships brought back lots of memories from the Russian capital.
“Although I’m not personally directly involved in athletics, I still follow the sport very closely,” he said. “One year before the World Championships, I went to Moscow with Daley Thompson in 2012 and of course Daley was getting up to his usual mischief. We went to the stadium and it brought back a lot of memories, even though it’s a completely different stadium now.
“It’s much bigger, more modernised and more enclosed. I think the crowd was noisier now than they were back then. It’s a fantastic place; I’ll always remember it.
“I remember stepping on the track in 1980 and just thinking this is where I want to run. Just like in 1980, you could feel the atmosphere in the stadium and I’m sure the athletes could feel that too. Going back there a couple of years ago I felt the same thing, but unfortunately I’d probably have to compete with a zimmer frame now instead of spikes.”
Beck, the 400m Hurdles champion at the 1980 Games, now works as a coach but says things were a lot easier when he was an athlete.
“As an athlete I could influence my results and I was responsible for what I wanted to achieve,” he said. “Now I’m on the other side it’s very different, but I still enjoy it very much. Coaching is my life now, but I feel it’s very difficult for me to influence the situation. It very much depends on the athlete. As a coach, you can only watch as a spectator and that’s sometimes very difficult.”
Koch, who set World records over 60m, 200m and 400m, winning Olympic gold in 1980 in the latter, said that the 200m was her favourite event.
“The simple reason is that it was shorter than the 400m,” she said. “After each 400m I always felt terrible; nevertheless it was my most successful event and the main one in my life. I was very happy to finally succeed in Moscow with the gold medal, and then again later in 1985 in Canberra where I became the first woman to break 48 seconds. That gave me impetus to continue with athletics for a bit longer.
“When I ran 47.60, I knew that it was a very good time but I didn’t think it would last as the World record as long as it has. When I watched the race back, every aspect of the race proved to be great – I had a terrific first 200m and a good 300m. So I knew it would be difficult to beat that time but I didn’t imagine it would stay as long as 27 years.
“When Marie-Jose Perec was coached by my husband, she realised that the training load required to run that fast was very difficult. If you fulfil such training, then maybe it will be possible to break the world record, but it is extremely difficult.
“Of the current athletes, Allyson Felix could perhaps be the one to move the record forward. The reason I think she could do it is because she is very fast over 200m. If you want to be successful in the 400m, you have to be first class in the 200m as well.”
The three legendary athletes were asked about what they feel sprinters from their home countries can do to be competitive with the rest of the world.
“Germany isn’t as good on the track as they are on the field,” said Beck. “But over the past few years there have been some developments, especially in the relays. We also had one sprinter, Martin Keller, who ran a wind-assisted 9.99 and a wind-legal 10.07 this year, so that was an improvement.
“Our greatest problem seems to be with the longer sprints. In the 400m Hurdles we’re doing quite well and have closed the gap a little bit, but in the 400m we still have a lot to do. The simple reason is that our sprinters aren’t good enough to run a fast 200m, which – as Marita said – is what’s needed to be good at the 400m. We won’t close the gap completely before 2016, but hopefully we can close it a bit.”
“Many athletes do not want to run the 400m or they take it up too late,” added Koch. “They run the 100m and don’t dare to run the 200m because they think it’s too difficult, but that’s not true. If they first move to the 200m in the right way, they can achieve at that distance and feel comfortable, and then it’s easier to go from 200m to 400m.”
Speaking specifically about the shorter distances, Wells added: “In our days the times in the 100m and 200m weren’t as quick, let’s face it. In 1980 the third-fastest 100m performance ever was Silvio Leonard’s 9.98. Nowadays that would just make you a good club runner in Jamaica.
“Bolt is a very special athlete and the event has evolved by three or four tenths of a second, so you don’t really pay much attention to the guys who are running 9.95. In Britain the depth is also much better. We don’t have the Linford Christies who can run 9.8, but we have a few on the borderline who are still coming through.”
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF