The Belgacom Memorial Van Damme following a successful bid in 2006 by a Kenyan quartet on the World record for the 4x800m Relay, has lined up an attack on the 4x1500m global mark for the 33rd edition of the meeting on Friday 5 September.
In 2006, a Kenya squad led home by the future Olympic 800m champion Wilfred Bungei brought the baton across in 7:02.43, so over-turning the World 4x800m record which had stood to a British team which included Steve Cram and Sebastian Coe since 1982.
That achievement was historic in itself but the World 4x1500 metres Relay record which will be targeted by an impressive Kenyan line-up - Augustine Choge, Asbel Kiprop, William Biwott and Gideon Gathimba - at the ÅF Golden League meeting on Friday is the oldest official IAAF World record.
The time of 14:38.8 was set by a team from the Federal Republic Germany (Thomas Wessinghage, Harald Hudak, Michael Lederer, Karl Fleschen) in Cologne, Germany on 17 August 1977.
It’s not a record that springs to mind? But then on 17 August 1977 the world was still reeling from the news the previous day that Elvis Presley had died in his Memphis mansion at the age of 42, and so it’s not surprising that the West Germans’ feat might have largely gone overlooked.
The quartet’s leader Dr. Wessinghage, was one of the greatest milers of his time, a multiple European Indoor 1500m champion, who would later move up to the 5000m becoming European champion in 1982 and take sixth place in the inaugural World championships the following year. Wessinghage still holds the German record for the individual 1500m of 3:31.58 which he set on 27 August 1980, Koblenz, Germany, in second place on the heels of Britain’s Steve Ovett whose 3:31.36 was a World record.
The relay record that the Federal Republic’s crew beat in 1977 was that established by France (14:49.0) way back in 1965 but in between time there had been a much quicker run by an illustrious New Zealand squad, made up of names that read like a who’s who of that country’s middle distance renaissance of the 1970s - Tony Polhill, John Walker, Rodney Dixon, Dick Quax. The Kiwis’ time of 14:40.4 was run on 22 August 1973 in Oslo, Norway, but it was never officially ratified as, the later to become 1976 Olympic 1500m champion, John Walker was considered to have been paced for three laps.
But four years later Wessinghage’s quartet managed to slice-off over one and half seconds on even that unratified run, in the process heading home West Germany’s very distant finishing second (15:46.2) and third (16:16.7) string squads. The successful World record attempt took place during the half time break of a football match between FC Köln and Werder Bremen in Cologne’s Müngersdorfer Stadium, which sadly after rebuilding in the early 1990s no longer houses a track today.
This Friday in Brussels, the Kenyans will be competing for the victory and the World record with, among others, the United States, Great Britain, Ireland and Australia.
Chris Turner for the IAAF