Michael Johnson wins the 200m at the 1999 Golden Gala (Getty Images) © Copyright
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Golden Gala’s Glorious history

The PERONI Golden Gala, the third IAAF Golden League meeting of 2003, Italy’s premier annual Athletics meeting will take place in Rome’s Olympic stadium this Friday 11 July. The Golden Gala has a proud history the highlights of which Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF internet now recounts.

Cold War enemies re-united

The late IAAF President Dr. Primo Nebiolo launched the first annual Golden Gala meeting in 1980 as an attempt to reunite the sports world which had been split by the Western boycott of the Moscow Olympics.

So only five days after the end of the Moscow Olympics, 60,000 spectators attended the first edition of the meeting at Rome's Olympic stadium to celebrate Italy’s heroes who had just won Olympic medals.

Pietro Mennea who had become Olympic 200m champion over Scotland’s Allan Wells and Jamaica’s Don Quarrie, did not disappoint his fans, winning the 200 metres in 20.01. Another icon of Italian athletics Sara Simeoni, fresh from her Olympic High Jump win, continued her splendid season by clearing 1.98.

Not so fortunate was Italy’s Gabriella Dorio, who would become Olympic 1500m champion four years later, who was beaten in the Golden Gala by USSR’s Olympic champion Tatyana Kazankina who had retained her 1500m laurels in Moscow. Kazankina won 3:58.94 to Dorio's 3:59.82.

In that first Golden Gala, USA’s great Edwin Moses bounced back from the disappointment of the US boycott of the Moscow Olympics, which had denied him the chance of defending his 1976 400m Hurdles, and won his specialist event in 48.51.

The first edition of the Rome meeting also featured a great Hammer competition won by the West German Karl Heinz Riehm over the newly crowned double Olympic champion Yuriy Sedykh, with a 80.78m release.

IAAF World Cup

In 1981 the Olympic stadium did not hold the Golden Gala the next year because the meeting was replaced with the staging of the third edition of the IAAF World Cup and a new nine-lane track was inaugurated on this occasion to enable the Italian team to compete. Moses’ win in the 400 Hurdles in 47.37, Czech Jarmila Kratochvilova’s 48.61 in the 400m, USA’s Evelyn Ashford’s sprint double in the 100 and the 200 metres (11.02 and 22.18) were just some of the many highlights of the Rome World Cup.

First World record

The Golden Gala returned to its annual format on 14 September 1982, after the European Championships in Athens. However, the Rome spectators had to wait until 1983 to cheer their first World record of this meeting. In that year the French pole vaulter Thierry Vigneron cleared 5.83 to improve the previous world mark of Pierre Quinon by one centimetre.
 
The Pole Vault was also the highlight of the 1984 meeting, as not one, but two World records were broken in the same evening. Vigneron cleared 5.91 to set the first record of the evening, but Sergey Bubka, who had to missed the Los Angeles Olympic Games due to the Eastern European boycott, responded by vaulting 5.94.

This edition of the Golden Gala will also forever be remembered  for Evelyn Ashford’s 10.94 in the 100m, Edwin Moses’s 48.01 in the 400 Hurdles, a fabulous Hammer competition won by Yuriy Siedikh with 83.90 metres.

Italian fans also had the chance to celebrate their new Los Angeles Olympic champions, Alberto Cova (10,000m), Alessandro Andrei (Shot put) and Gabriella Dorio (1500m).
 
First IAAF Grand Prix

Rome hosted the inaugural edition of the IAAF Grand Prix Final in 1985. The 1983 World champion at 1500 and 3000m Mary Decker won a memorable 3000m race in 8:25.83 over the Romanian Maricica Puica (8:27.83) and the Briton Zola Budd (8:28.83).

The 1986 edition of the Golden Gala was scheduled ten days after the European Championships in Stuttgart, one of the most successful ever championships for Italian athletics as they won ten medals. One of the local heroes Stefano Mei, gold medallist in the 10,000m and second in the 5000m, was beaten in Rome by the Moroccan star Said Aouita in a close battle in the 5000 metres - 13:14.29 to 13:13.13. Sergey Litinov won the Hammer with 84.88m (still the meeting record). Marita Koch’s 49.17 win in the 400m and Petra Felke’s 70.64 release in the women javelin were the best technical results of this 1986 edition.

Sub 13 minute magic from Aouita

The 1987 meeting took place in the July of that year, a final dress rehearsal for the stadium one month before the World Championships. This edition of the Godlen Gala has gone down into history because it featured the first ever 5000m race under 13 minutes, as Said Aouita set the new World record of 12:58.39.

Such was the magnitude of the land mark, Aouita’s performance overshadowed the 100-200 metres double of Calvin Smith (10.15/20.22), the 5.80 vaulting by Thierry Vigneron and the 8.45 leap of Robert Emmiyan. One month later Aouita returned to the same track to win the world title over the same distance.

Different venues

The Golden Gala moved to other cities for three years due to renovation work at the “Stadio Olimpico” for the 1990 football World Cup in Italy, and was staged in Verona in 1988, Pescara in 1989 and Bologna in 1990.

The Pescara edition was highlighted by the 1500 metres Italian record set by Gennaro Di Napoli (3:32.98, which was improved by the same athlete one year later to 3:32.78 in Rieti) who finished third behind Somalia’s World champion Abdi Bile (3:31.20) and Wilfried Kirochi of Kenya (3:32.57).

In Bologna 1990, Salvatore Antibo paved the way for his successful season, which saw him win a 5000-10,000m double at the European Championships in Split, by setting the still unbeaten Italian record over the 5000 metres - 13:05.59. This edition also revealed the potential of one of the biggest stars of middle distance running in the years to come: Noureddine Morceli. The Algerian won the 1500 metres in 3:32.60.

41,000 spectators return to Rome

The Golden Gala returned to its traditional venue in the renovated Olympic Stadium in July 1991 and was attended by 41,000 spectators. Merlene Ottey ran the 100 metres in 10.87. Stefka Kostadinova made her return to the same runway where she had jumped to her World record of 2.09 during the 1987 World Championships, and won with a 1.98 clearance. Philip Barkutwo and Moses Kiptanui produced a close battle in the 3000 metres steeplechase won by the former in 8:08.39 to 8:08.53.

In the men’s 200m sprint the Namibian Frank Fredericks won in 20.08, a victory he repeated over the same distance for five consecutive editions between 1992 and 1997, and five years later in 2002 with 19.99. The Namibian recorded his best on the Rome track of 19.96 in 1996.

Fredericks defeats Johnson...and again

In 1992, Fredericks put an end to Michael Johnson’s winning streak in the 200 metres with a 20.23 to 20.25 victory. Third was Linford Christie with 20.25.

Apart from this 200 metres showdown, the Golden Gala of 1992 produced a surprising win of Di Napoli over Morceli - 3:33.80 to 3:34.87 - and a hotly contested 5000m battle won by the Briton Hamer in 13:09.08 ahead of the Antibo (13:10.08). Igor Astapkovich won the Hammer throw with 81.58. Heike Drechsler leapt to 7.06 in the Long Jump.
 
In 1993, Fredericks repeated his 200m win, again beating Michael Johnson and Linford Christie in 20.18. This was a springboard win as Fredericks went on to take the 200 metres World title in Stuttgart that summer with 19.85.

The Rome night proved to be inspirational for some italian athletes. Among them Alessandro Lambruschini who won the 3000 steeplechase beating some of the best Kenyans, two months before capturing the bronze in Stuttgart over the same distance.

King Carl returns, and the World 5000m record goes

In 1994, Carl Lewis made his comeback on the Rome track seven years after his much-hyped sprint dash against Ben Johnson at the 1987 World Championships but was beaten by his team-mate Leroy Burrell, who won in 10.06. It was only one month before Burrell smashed the World record with 9.85 in Lausanne.

The 5000 metres has always been a special event in Rome and Moses Kiptanui lived up to the middle distance tradition of this meeting in 1995 when he lowered the previous clocking of Haile Gebrselassie with a World record of 12:55.30. This race also revealed the talent of a 19-year-old Daniel Komen who finished second behind Kiptanui in 12:56.30. Gebrselassie recaptured his record two months later at the Zürich Weltklasse meeting by taking 11 seconds off Kiptanui’s record with a sensational 12:44.39.

At the 1996 Golden Gala on a rainy cool evening, the Moroccan Salah Hissou set his PB with 12:50.80 in the 5000 metres. Daniel Komen improved the Rome track record with 12:48.98 in 1997. That year Hicham El Guerrouj won for the first time at the Stadio Olimpico with 3:30.59 in the 1500 metres.

El Guerrouj smashes 1500m and Mile World records
 
One year later at the Golden Gala, El Guerrouj smashed the World record in the 1500 metres with an astonishing 3:26.00, which is still unbeaten today.

In 1998 the Golden Gala joined the prestigious IAAF Golden League circuit. Marion Jones made her first apparance in Rome with a great double win in the 100 metres with 10.75 and in the Long Jump with 7.23 by beating Fiona May in a fabulous contest. Fredericks won the 100 metres in 9.97 by beating Ato Boldon and Maurice Greene. The ever-smiling Gebrselassie kept his hopes of a share of the Golden League Jackpot alive with a 13:02.63 win in the 5000 metres. Svetlana Masterkova recorded 3:58.42 in the 1500m, where three other women ran under 4 minutes. The Nigerian Charity Opara ran the fastest women’s 400m time of 1998 with 49.29.

El Guerrouj returned in 1999 ready to break the World Mile record held by Noureddine Morceli (3:44.39 at Rieti in 1993). Ngeny, the man who helped El Guerrouj as a pacemaker in the 1998 world record race, gave the Moroccan a run for his money. The race developed into a exciting battle between El Guerrouj and Noah Ngeny to the finish line. Both dipped under the previous record: 3:43.13 for El Guerrouj and 3:43.40 for Ngeny.

Greene clocks 9.85

Apart from from the Mile record, the 1999 edition will also be remembered for the 9.85 clocking by Greene in the 100m and for one of the rare appearances of Michael Johnson on the European circuit at 200m. One month before smashing the 400 metres World record at the World Championships in Seville (43.18), the “Waco Express” won the Rome 200m with 19.93 beating Ato Boldon.

Marion Jones finished first in the women’s 200m in 22.19. Wilson Kipketer won the 800 metres in 1:42.79. Daniel Komen finished first at 5000 metres with 12:55.16, in a race where seven men ran under the 13 minutes barrier. Moroccan Nezha Bidouane ran an impressive 53.05 in the 400m Hurdles. Romania’s Gabriela Szabo captured a vital win on the road to her Golden League Jackpot dream with a 8:27.79 time, which beat Zhara Quaziz (8:28.72), and Gete Wami (8:29.72). Bernard Barmasai ran 8:03.30 in the 3000m Steeplechase.

Hattestad spears record

The women’s World Javelin record of 68.22 set by Norway’s Trine Hattestad was the highlight of the 2000 edition, and she was to improve the record again to 69.48 later in the same season at the Bislett Games in Oslo.

The 2000 meet also featured a 100-200 metres double win by Greene (9.97/20.02). Marion Jones dominated the women’s 100 metres dash in 10.91. Algeria scored an impressive middle distance double with Djabir Said Guerni in the 800 metres (1:44.32) and Ali Saidi Sief in the 5000 metres (12:50.86). Noah Ngeny dipped under 3:30 in the 1500m with 3:29.99. Bidouane won her third consecutive 400 metres Hurdles race in 53.53. USA’s Gail Devers continued her Golden League winning streak in the 100 hurdles in 12.47.

Szekely starts her Golden League quest

The 2001 Golden Gala opened the Golden League season in great fashion. Olga Yegorova won the 3000 metres in 8:23.96 by beating her compatriots Yelena Zadrozhnaya (8:25.40) and Tatyana Tomashova (8:25.56), and the pre-meeting favourite Gabriela Szabo who finished only fourth in 8:26.44. Paula Radcliffe broke the British and Commonwealth record with 8:26.44.

El Guerrouj ran the sixth fastest Mile on the all-time list with 3:44.95. The Swiss Andrè Bucher began his successful 2001 Golden League season with a narrow victory over the Russian Yuriy Borzakovskiy - 1:44.01 to 1:44.02. Violeta Szekely won one of her seven Golden League races with a 4:00.92.

Maurice Greene and Marion Jones dominated the sprints by clocking 10.01 and 10.96 respectively. Ethiopia’s Haliu Mekkonen ran the 5000m in 12:58.57, with 13 athletes dipping under the 13:10 barrier.

The Hammer returned to the official programme in 2001 to celebrate the silver medal won by Italy’s Nicola Vizzoni at the Sydney Olympics. After a heavy shower during the afternoon Japan’s Koji Murofushi produced a 79.50 release to beat Vizzoni who was second with 79.36.

Jones, Guevara, Sanchez and El Guerrouj dominate

Last year’s edition of the Golden Gala was opened again by the Hammer, which saw five men throwing over the 80 metres barrier with Igor Astapkovich winner with 80.79.

Jones (10.89 in the 100 metres), Felix Sanchez (47.73 in the 400 hurdles), Ana Guevara (49.51 in the 400 metres) and El Guerrouj (3:48.28 in the 1500 metres) continued their successful Golden League campaign.

Greene captured one of his rare 2002 victories by beating Tim Montgomery with 9.89 to 9.94. Salah Hissou set the 5000 metres world best with 12:55.85. In the women 5000 metres event it was the 35 year-old kenyan Edith Masai who clinched a surprising victory in 14:53.77 over Berhane Adere and Gabriela Szabo. Also, eleven women set their PBs in the 1500 metres with Maria Mutola winning in 4:01.50. Mark Boswell cleared 2.35 in the High Jump to beat Stefan Holm second with 2.33.

Now another page of glorious Athletics history awaits to be written at the PERONI Golden Gala on Friday 11 July.