A classic! - John Walker, Steve Ovett, Jurgen Straub, Abderahmane Morceli and Steve Scott at the 1977 World Cup. Ovett won the race. (Getty Images) © Copyright
1. 1985 Men’s 4x400m Relay
The very last event has not always been kind to the United States in the World Cup. They lost the trophy in 1977 when poor Maxie Parks pulled up injured in mid-race. In 1994, they could not put together four runners and in later years their performances were annulled because of the doping sanction of Antonio Pettigrew. In 1985, disaster was turned into triumph with an heroic episode which added spice at the end of a great meeting.
The US men led by four points going into the relay, meaning that the only way they could lose the Canberra World Cup would be if the USSR beat them by five or more places. Walter McCoy and Andre Phillips put their team in front and when Ray Armstead had a clear lead approaching anchorman Mike Franks, the final outcome looked clearcut. Oceania were second as they had been throughout the third leg. Therefore Franks was waiting on the inside with Darren Clark lined up next. But then the USSR’s Vladimir Krylov wrongly pushed in between them, even though his incoming runner was in only sixth place. Such an act would bring disqualification under today’s IAAF rule 170.9. Clark reacted by shoving Krylov with such force, he collided with Armstead who stumbled onto the infield just as he was about to pass to Franks. So Franks had to run backwards and snatch the baton from his flailing team-mate, and then survive a further collision and spiking, courtesy of the outgoing Krylov. A five metre lead turned into fourth place. Oceania/Australia also suffered in the chaos, dropping from second to sixth. Africa emerged in front from Europe and the GDR. Would there be any disqualifications? How would this affect the team standings ? Could Franks still win the race?
All these questions were registering as we watched Thomas Schönlebe move the GDR ahead on the backstraight and he led round the last bend with Innocent Egbunike in pursuit for Africa. Meanwhile Franks had moved into third place with 100m to go. At this point the crowd were booing whoever they felt had been to blame for the incident, but this changed to cheers when the positions switched again. Egbunike edged in front with Franks closing, while Clark was fighting successfully for fourth place.
It looked as if the Nigerian would just hold off the American, but then he seemed to slacken just before the line, allowing the indefatigable Franks to win by inches. The head-on pictures revealed what actually happened. Egbunike’s baton hand had clashed with Franks three strides out, and the baton was knocked free. The Nigerian was not easing off, but looking back in horror. Sadly for his team, the dropped baton meant disqualification. But justice was done as far as the United States were concerned thanks to Franks, who clocked a 44.2 split in spite of everything. The US team, rather than setting off on a lap of honour, huddled around a television screen to watch the replays. Relays don’t come more eventful and exciting than this one.
2. 1977 Men’s 1500m
Whoever was responsible for finalising the fields for the first World Cup did a brilliant job because in event after event we saw defining moments of the athletics year. The men’s 1500m was one of them. It brought together the Olympic Champion John Walker and European record holder Thomas Wessinghage along with big names Jürgen Straub, Steve Scott and Morceli (no, not Nourredine but his older brother Abderrahmane who was 19 at the time). The man to beat was Steve Ovett of Europe, the British runner who had thrived in slow races. How would he fare in a fast race? Wessinghage and Walker both must have wondered because first the German and then the New Zealander set a snappy pace of 56.48 and 1:54.96. The third lap was slower but in any case Ovett was always perfectly placed among the top three. Dave Hill of the Americas led into the last lap as the others gathered themselves, then Ovett burst in front just before the final bend. He killed all the opposition with the first few strides of his acceleration, so much so that Walker dropped out while in third place. Ovett was timed in 11.8 for the section between 1300m and1400m, so it was not surprising that he had won the race by the middle of the homestraight when he was waving to the crowd. A superstar was born and Ovett would not lose at 1500m for another three years.
3. 1979 Men’s Long Jump
For more than a decade Bob Beamon’s 8.90m World record was without challenge, though athletics fans realised that the advantageous conditions enjoyed by Beamon in Mexico City – 2240m altitude, two metre tailwind – played an important part in his feat. So those in the sport knew they were seeing something special when the low-altitude “World record” of 8.45m fell at the Montréal World Cup to Larry Myricks.
The American had to fight to win because he had been lying in only third place on 8.17m behind Lutz Dombrowski (8.27m) and David Giralt (8.22m). For Myricks’s fifth effort, all eyes were trained on the long jump as nothing else was going on in the stadium. He soared out to a huge distance, but we had to wait 15 seconds or so before the white flag was raised to confirm the jump was valid. Then the figures 8.52m flashed up on the scoreboard. Myricks knew he had taken the lead, but did not realise how far he’d gone until someone yelled the imperial equivalent (27 feet 11 and a half inches) from the stands.
4. 1977 Men’s 800m
The great success of the inaugural World Cup was symbolised by this wonderful race which the world had missed in 1976 due to the African Olympic boycott. Alberto Juantorena and Mike Boit had already met in 1977 at Zürich where the Cuban beat the Kenyan clearly. In Düsseldorf it was much more of a race. Following a 52.31 opening lap by Sri Ram Singh, Juantorena strode into the lead at 500m tracked by Boit with Willi Wülbeck giving hope to the host crowd in third spot. Soon it was down to the two main protagonists and the Cuban glanced round to find the Kenyan on his shoulder at the end of the last bend. And then we saw one of the classic homestraight duels in athletics, reminiscent of the battle between Jamaica and the USA at the end of the 1952 Olympic 4x400m. Boit was on the verge of drawing level for almost the entire straight, but Juantorena held on to win by a bare tenth.
5. 1977 Men’s 4x100m Relay
Before the Düsseldorf World Cup, Steve Williams was best known as the World record sprinter who missed his 1976 Olympic chance injured at the US?Olympic Trials. One year later at the World Cup he made amends in spectacular style, first winning the 100m and then contributing to a surprising World record in the sprint relay.
Drawn in lane seven, Bill Collins and Steve Riddick established a lead which was significant as both the Americas and the GDR had their best men on the backstraight. The US still had their quickest to come on the anchor. On the bend Don Quarrie for the Americas gained a little ground on Cliff Wiley. Wiley’s pass to Williams was good though the US anchorman admitted he then lost vital time moving the baton from one hand the other. He felt they might have otherwise cracked 38, but the winning time of 38.03 was 0.16 faster than the mark which had stood since 1972.
6. 1981 Men’s 800m
Sebastian Coe was at the peak of his powers in 1981 and the World Cup was his finale. He had just set World records at 800m, 1000m and One Mile (twice) in 79 days. Any doubt that he could also win big slow races – raised by his 1980 Olympic defeat at this distance – were dispelled in Rome. He positioned himself well in the large pack which was towed through 400m in 54.28 by Nikolay Kirov. Coe edged ahead at 500m and repelled the challenge from Detlef Wagenknacht at 600m before sprinting clear in the straight without showing any tension in his body. Yet the gap he opened up on the best from the rest of the world was 15m. On the last morning of the meeting, Coe took part in the “Maratonina” fun run around the streets of Rome, organised in connection with the World Cup and supported by hundreds including this writer who still has the tee-shirt from that event.
7. 1998 Men’s Discus Throw
It was at the 1998 World Cup that Virgilijus Alekna first showed he was a man for the big events. In reasonable conditions he opened with 68.27m. That would have been good enough to win from his European Championship conquerer Lars Riedel, but Alekna closed his account with 69.66m. In an event where the best marks are often set at minor fixtures, this was the longest ever in a meeting of this level. The Lithuanian went on to be one of the greatest athletes of the noughties with two Olympic and world titles and an unbeaten streak of 37 in 2005-2007. The 22nd of these was at the 2006 World Cup where Alekna also captained Europe’s men to victory.
8. 1979 Men’s 10,000m & 5000m
We are now used to the sight of Ethiopians sprinting as if with fresh legs at the end of distance races. In the 1970s, with so few athletes from that country having broken through, it was something of a novelty. The undoubted pioneer was Miruts Yifter. He had proved unbeatable at the first World Cup and he repeated the long distance double in Montréal 1979 and of course Moscow 1980.
It was in Montréal where I feel Yifter was the most dominant. Both of his wins were capped by a sub-39 second 300m which is even quicker than we have seen from Kenenisa Bekele in recent years. In the Montréal 10,000m, Craig Virgin tried to run the finish out of Yifter with repeated surges but the Ethiopian remained untroubled and even led briefly himself when the American stepped aside at around 6000m. When it came to the 5000m, the opposition’s early laps at 67 second pace played into Yifter's hands and he produced another trademark finish. Yifter admitted he did not know his exact age but his estimate was 36. The African team book in Montréal said 32, but according to a birthdate revealed later, he was 35 in 1979.
9. 1994 Men’s Pole Vault
Ten years before the London World Cup, Sergey Bubka had raised the world pole vault record at Crystal Palace to 5.90m. Such was the Ukrainian’s dominance that this height was still a formidable barrier after a decade. It constituted a World Cup, African and Commonwealth record target at the same facility for the African representative Okkert Brits.
The 21-year-old South African had already won the competition by clearing 5.80m the first time, a huge turnaround from his showing at the previous month’s Commonwealth Games where he had no-heighted. Brits failed his first attempt, but then went over clearly on his second try. Unfortunately, the crossbar fell off. It was then announced that the officials had ruled the vault valid. The mystery of what had happened was solved by the television reply. A thread had been attached to the crossbar so that officials could hold it in place in the windy conditions. This is a common occurrence due to the varied summer weather in Great Britain. After Brits let go of his pole, it had snagged on one of these strings and brought down the bar which had not been touched by the vaulter.
10. 2006 Men’s 3000m
Oceania have not had many wins in the World Cup. Their men had none until Craig Mottram triumphed in Madrid 2002 with an Australian record. Four years later the Australian had moved to another level. Not only did he defend his title and smash that record, he defeated Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele. There was no bigger scalp in distance running than the (then) 10 times World Cross Country Champion.
Bekele made it quick with an opening kilometre of 2:30.51 including a lap of 58.63. Only Mottram could stay with this pace, but Bekele then slowed and Mottram took over. The second kilometre slowed to 2:34.14, but then Mottram changed gears with 59.90 and 60.75 on laps six and seven. Shockingly, Bekele was dropped, leaving an ecstatic Mottram to win comfortably. So comfortably that he was able to celebrate before clocking the brilliant time of 7:32.19. The Ethiopian star complained how difficult it was to run without pacemakers, but it should be noted that since Athens 2006 and until April 2010, he has not lost another track race at 3000m or above, whether paced or not.
Mark Butler for the IAAF
- A classic! - John Walker, Steve Ovett, Jurgen Straub, Abderahmane Morceli and Steve Scott at the 1977 World Cup. Ovett won the race. (Getty Images) © Copyright
- Virgilijus Alekna competing at the 2006 World Cup (Getty Images) © Copyright
- Craig Mottram's shock win over Kenenisa Bekele in Athens (Getty Images) © Copyright
- Larry Myricks of the USA at the 1979 World Cup (Getty Images) © Copyright
2006 Evergreen Mutola