Kim Collins celebrates winning the 100m final (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News Paris, France

Small nations at Paris 2003 Saint-Denis

That the IAAF was truly the most international of associations was confirmed when just a couple of days prior to the opening of the 9th IAAF World Championships in Paris, the number of its members increased by 1 to reach an unprecedented total of 211 Federations.

With the addition of East Timor as one of its member, the IAAF is the most universal sports association.

A total of 203 Federations are represented at these championships making the Paris edition the most attended in its  20 year history. 

Lilian Claber Argereta of Honduras will probably never forget the whole crowd of the Stade de France cheering her up as she concluded her last couple of laps on her own more than four minutes after the last finisher of the 5000m heats had crossed the line.

Obviously some federations have more experience than others, and some countries will return home on 31 August with more medals than others but as Baron Pierre de Coubertin believed participating is the most important thing.

This is certainly true for 22-year-ol Lima Azimi of Afghanistan who became last 23 August, the first Afghan woman to take part in such an important sporting competition.

Azimi came in last of his heat in a new personal best and national record of 18.37 – she had actually never run a 100m race before – but received much more attention than any of her star competitors that day, a certain Kelli White and Merlene Ottey.

Azimi’s participation in these championships was symbolic, and the young woman knew it all too well. She proudly answered questions that flashed from hundreds of journalists, whose main preoccupation on that first day of the championships she became.

Thousands of words, in newspapers from all over the world have now been written on Azimi’s participation in these championships, and the fact that she finished her race five seconds after everyone else in her heat had crossed the finish line dis not matter at all.

Afghanistan is a small athletics nation with hardly any history in the sport but there are other nations which are small in size but increasingly large by their athletics credentials.

When Kim Collins crossed the finish line of the 100m final to win the 9th IAAF World Championships title, not only did he win the 60,000 dollars prize money but he also became the first man from Saint Kitts and Nevis to clinch a global title.

Athletics fans around the world probably know more about Collins, who came to the fore when finishing 7th at the Sydney Olympics, and about the island from which he hails.

The island of St Kitts, in the Caribbean, covers just 60 square miles, with a total population which could have been accommodated twice over in the Stade de France. It achieved independence from Britain only 20 years ago, along with its Leeward Islands partner, Nevis.

Collins, who is the only male representative of his country at these championships, offered Saint Kits and Nevis its first global medal when finishing a joint third in Edmonton’s 200m.

Thanks to Collins, Saint Kitts and Nevis has now become only the 28th country to win a gold medal in the history of the IAAF World outdoor championships.

Two days before Collins' win, former Olympic champion Jefferson Perez of Ecuador had made his country the 27th to win gold, after his World best 20km walk performance of 1:17:21.

There are a number of other countries which could hardly be described as small by their geographical size but have yet never won any honours at the World Championships.

Take Turkey for instance whose best placing in 20 years of the championships is a 5th place by 5000m runner Ebru Kavaklioglu in 1999. It is very likely that by the end of tomorrow night the Turkish national anthem will be played in the Stade de France such is the class of their 1500m runner Sureyya Ayhan.

Or take Croatia who won a record 3 gold medals at the World Junior championships two years ago in Kingston but have yet to see one of its representatives step on a senior world championships podium.

19-year-old Blanka Vlasic, who has improved her personal best to 2.01m this season could well become the first medallist for her country on Sunday afternoon.

The bottom line is there is no small country in track and field. Everyone is big in its own little way.