Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Stuttgart 1993 - My Favorite World Championship

Javier Sotomayor of Cuba clearing the bar during the High Jump event
With this year's World Championship only one month away, I thought it was time to start focusing on it. And my first thought was to round up my top ten moments from Worlds Championships past. But as I began to do so something strange started happening, the name of Stuttgart became VERY prominent! As a sprint fan Tokyo '91 and the men's 100 immediately came to mind as did Rome '87 and Osaka '07. But then suddenly four Stuttgart performances in a row appeared on my screen and I began to realize that I was actually getting ready to pay homage to one meet instead of several.
So that is what I am going to do, pay homage to the World Championship that is so etched in my mind - the 1993 World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany! Why was Stuttgart special? Because it had EVERYTHING! There were World Records and near World Records. There was tremendous competition with the photo being needed to decide several events - and it was tremendous on both the men's side and the women's side. Among the athletes competing in Stuttgart were some of the sports all time greats. And then there were the relays!
So without further ado let me review some of the highlights from the World Championship I consider the best one ever.
For sprint fans, this was one meet that did not disappoint - and not just one event, but across the board!
Men's 100 - There was the "showdown" between Linford Christie and Carl Lewis. The one that had been talked about for almost a year after Carl didn't make the US team for Barcelona, and Christie won the Olympic title. The drama was further enhanced when Andre Cason won the National title in a windy 9.85, over Mitchell (9.85) and Lewis (9.90)! Linford proved that he was indeed The Man with a 9.87 victory over Cason (9.92), Mitchell (9.99) and defending champ Lewis (10.02). Christie’s mark at the time was only .01 off of the WR!
Women's 100 - Not to be outdone the women created their own buzz with a fast, close, and deep race as Gail Devers repeated her Olympic win with another nail biter - a 10.82 win over Merlene Ottey (also 10.82) that needed a careful read of the photo to sort out. Gwen Torrence (10.89) and Irina Privalova (10.96) made this another deep race and solidified a rivalry among this group of women that lasted well into the decade.
Men's 200 - Carl Lewis and Mike Marsh had been talking about taking a shot at the then WR of 19.72. Marsh had come oh so close in Barcelona with an eased up 19.73 in his semi. Both Lewis and Marsh felt they had the goods to take Pietro Mennea off the books. Through the rounds Frank Fredericks and John Regis showed that they would have to be taken seriously and in the final both ran strongly down the stretch to show just how seriously as Fredericks won in a then African Record 19.85. Regis (19.94) and Lewis (19.99) made this the first race with 3 men under 20.00! A feat not reproduced until the WR race in Atlanta 3 years later.
Women's 200 - Again, not to be outdone, the women had another stirring battle, this time with Ottey (21.98) very narrowly claiming victory over Torrence (22.00). Privalova (22.13) and Marie Jose Perec (22.20) were close on their heels in a race that would produce medal winners even today.
Men's 400 - This race brought together the three fastest men in history at that point! Then WR holder Butch Reynolds (43.29), Olympic gold medalist Quincy Watts (43.50), and National Champion Michael Johnson (43.75) who was beginning to assert himself in this event. The race was exciting and fast, as Johnson set a new PR in winning in 43.65 over Reynolds' 44.13. Watt's actually had a shoe come apart on the final turn yet finished in 45.05 with one good shoe!
The hurdle races were also of the highest quality. So much so that they produced two World Records, a national record and solidified a WR holder as one of the best all time!
Men's 110 hurdles - The men's short hurdles had some of the best technicians the event has ever seen in Colin Jackson and Jack Pierce, as well as one of its fastest sprinters in Tony Dees. With the three semi final races going in quick times to Jackson (13.13), Pierce (13.11) and Tony Jarrett (13.14) the final looked to be fast. Fast was an understatement as Colin Jackson won in the WR time of 12.91 - a mark that lasted until Xiang Liu set a new standard in 2006! Silver and Bronze went to Jarrett (13.00) and Pierce (13.06) in times that would win most major races!
Women's 100 hurdles - Having missed out on completing the sprint/hurdle double at the Olympics, Gail Devers did the trick here in fine fashion with her winning time of 12.46 setting a new American Record and making her the fastest combination sprinter/hurdler in history.
Men's 400 hurdles - This race featured the man that took the event under the 47 second barrier - Kevin Young. Young had shattered Edwin Moses venerable WR the year before with a Beamonesque 46.76. He entered here as a strong favorite having run consistently in the 47 second range all year. He didn't disappoint, winning in 47.18 - his second fastest time ever and the 7th fastest all time to that point. Behind him, three others ran under 48.00, Samuel Matete (47.60), Winthrop Graham (47.62), and Stephane Diagana (47.64), for one of the deepest races the event has ever seen. Note that 7th place finisher Derrick Adkins would later become Olympic Champion himself!
Women's 400 hurdles - While the men's version of this race had the WR holder in it, the women's version would end up setting a new WR! Rivals Sally Gunnell and Sandra Farmer Patrick ran each other to the line with only .05 separating them as Gunnell set a new WR (52.74) and Farmer Patrick an American Record (52.79). Sixteen years later these women are STILL #5 and #7 on the all time list!
And then, there were the relays!
Men's 4x1 - How fast was the 4x1? Well the US squad ran 38.12 - to win their opening round! After that "warm up" they set sail in the semi and equaled the WR of 37.40 (a mark that was just broken last year)! They were followed by Canada (37.99) and Great Britain (38.05) with marks that would win most Majors - and we're still in the semi finals! The US squad scared the record yet again in the final with a sizzling 37.48 - the #3 time ever! Great Britain finished second in 37.77 with Canada third at 37.83 - only the final in Osaka has had more teams under the magical 38.00 barrier!
Women's 4x1 - The women's race featured one of the finest sets of female sprinters the sport has seen at one time. As a result, the US, Russia, and Jamaica had plenty of talent to put out on the track, and these women came through in tremendous fashion. The speed of the US team and the superb passing of the Russian team found Privalova and Devers getting the stick virtually even. And as if they were battling in a 100 meter sprint, they ran stride for stride down the stretch in a finish that found Devers once again in this meet waiting for the outcome of a photo to find out her fate. The result was a virtual dead heat with both teams setting National Records of 41.49! Russia got the nod for the gold, but both teams were granted the Championship Record. The time is still the #3 time in history.
Men's 4x4 - Question: What do you get when you take the three fastest quarter milers in history and throw in a solid leadoff? Answer: You get the Stuttgart team for the US and a blazing WR of 2:54.29! A sensational lead off leg of 44.43 was run by Andrew Valmon, and was followed up by a blazing 43.59 by Quincy Watts. From that point on the race for gold was over and the race was now against the clock. A 43.36 by Butch Reynolds and it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that the record was going to be broken as long as Johnson could put in something under 44sec. He did that, and then some, with the fastest leg in history - 42.91 and the squad took nearly 1.5 seconds off the WR with their 2:54.29 - dismantling the previous WR that had been set the year before at the Barcelona Olympics. Only another WR effort of 2:54.20 in 1998 is faster.
Women's 4x4 - The women's race was intriguing because both the US and Russia were going to use sprinters in their efforts. Gwen Torrence and Irinia Privalova had already run and gained medals in both sprints and were integral parts of the National Record setting 4x1 squads. And both came through once again in this event. Torrence lead off the US team in 49.03 - obliterating the Russian leadoff (50.85). From that point forward it was the US Against the clock as Maicel Malone (49.44), Natasha Kaiser Brown (49.51) and Jearl Miles Clark (48.73) ran their way to the #4 time in history - 3:16.71! The Russians gave valiant chase, but legs of 49.31 (Alekseyeva), 49.81 (Ponomaryova) and a sizzling 48.41 anchor by Privalova were not enough. Yet their 3:18.38 still stands as the #8 time in history!
Now these were the highlights - the best of the best. There were even more outstanding performances in this meet! We were also treated to a distance double by Haile Gebrselassie - 27:46.02 for gold and 13:03.17 for silver - and a 1500 win (3:34.24) by former WR holder Noureddine Mourceli, two of the all time greats in their events.
In the field events, winners Javier Sotomayor (HJ, 2.40), Sergey Bubka (PV, 6.00), Mike Powell (LJ, 8.59), Mike Conley (TJ, 17.86), Werner Gunthor (SP, 21.97), and Dan O'Brien (Dec, 8817) all had sterling marks. While on the women's side Jackie Joyner Kersee had an outstanding 6837 pts in the Heptathlon and Anna Biryukova set a WR of 15.09m in the Triple Jump.
All told there were an amazing FIVE WR's set in this competition! As well as numerous marks that were among the top ten all time in various events. The high level of competition as well as the tremendous marks that were set makes this the most outstanding of all the World Championships held to date. Ten years after its inception this meet was hitting on all cylinders! And sixteen years later, I hope that Berlin can come close to the excitement and grandeur that was Stuttgart. With competitors like Yelena Isinbayeva, Tyson Gay, Usain Bolt, Tirunesh Dibaba, Dayron Robles, Lashawn Merritt, Maryam Jamal, Kenenisa Bekele, Dawn Harper, Dwight Phillips and others scheduled to compete, it is possible that Berlin could very well reach this lofty level.

1 comment:

  1. It was a memorable Championships for sure. Interesting through that you don't mention the main talking point of those Championships - the incredible Chiinese who basically toyed with the competition and took a clean sweep in the 3,000. Liu Dong ran the final 800 of her 1500 in under 2 minutes while Wang Junxia won the 10000 by more than 20 seconds.

    Later that the the same athletes would go on yo set a series of acarcely believable WRs. A 3:50.4 1500, a 8:06 3000 (the most impressive record in T&F for my money) and a 29:30 10000. Stunning.