Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Ten Overlooked Moments From the World Championships

Maurice Greene

This time of year everyone looks back on their favorite moments from World Championships past. Reading various articles all over I've come across the standard fare. The Tokyo 100 meter final and long jump. Jonathon Edwards' 60 foot triple jump and several other WOW moments from the championships. But in a quarter century there have been many many memorable moments. So many that a whole host of them have been pushed back into the darkness of our consciousness. So, instead of doing another Top Ten list of highlights, I decided to put together 10 moments that I feel shouldn't be forgotten. So without further adieu here (in chronological order) are 10 moments from World Championships past that I think have been overlooked.

1. 1983 - Sergei Bubka wins pole vault at 18' 8.25". This was Bubka's first ever global title. A relative unknown at the time, this was his springboard to what became a phenomenal career. By January of the following year Bubka cleared 19' .5" for his first World Record and there was no stopping him as he won nearly everything in sight through 1995. He still dominates the all time list and is still the holder of the WR at a phenomenal 20' 2"!

2. 1987 - Carl Lewis wins long jump at 28' 5.25 and defeats Robert Emmiyan. Everyone remembers Carl Lewis and Mike Powell at the World Championships in Tokyo. The meet where Powell eventually broke the World Record while Carl Lewis finally jumped 29 ft only to lose. But before Powell was a threat, Robert Emmiyan jumped 29' .75" on May 22, 1987 - beating Carl Lewis to the 29 ft barrier and becoming a serious threat to King Carl's long jump supremacy. Emmiyan never posed a serious threat to Carl, however, as he won easily over the Russian's 27' 11.75" best. Carl didn't meet his conqueror until Tokyo.

3. 1987 - Calvin Smith wins second 200 title at 20.16. Everyone remembers Michael Johnson winning 200 titles in '91 and '95 - mostly because of his super win in Atlanta at the '96 games. But before MJ was winning 200 titles, the then 100 meter WR holder was also winning multiple 200 meter titles. That's right the 100 meter WR holder! Calvin Smith was known as the sprinter that finally took down Jim Hines venerable 9.95 from Mexico City with his 9.93 at Colorado Springs July 3, 1983. But Calvin never won a global title over 100 meters - he kept running into Carl Lewis. He did, however, win titles in the 200 in Helsinki '83, and again in Rome 1987. This title coming by the narrowest of margins in one of the closest 200 finals ever as his 20.16 just edged out the 20.16 of Gilles Guineherve (FRA) and the 20.18 of John Regis (GBR).

4. 1987 - Edwin Moses wins second 400H title in 47.46. That Edwin Moses won another World title was not big news. After all, he was well into what became a 122 race winning streak! What was big news is that the streak nearly came to an end on this particular day as rivals Danny Harris (US) and Harald Schmid (FRG) took him to the wire and a photo as they were 2nd and 3rd both in 47.48! As they came down the stretch and went into the finish line for a brief moment it seemed as if Edwin may have finally lost. But it would be another year before that would actually happen.

5. 1987 - US wins 4x1 in 37.90. The time was extremely well for that period in time - just .07 off of the then WR - but that is not what makes this race special. What makes it special is the man on the third leg - one Harvey Glance. Glance was a young upstart in 1976 who was a co-favorite to win 100 meter gold in Montreal. He missed the mark in the 100 but ran lead off on the gold medal winning 4x1.Four years later Glance was a member of the ill fated 1980 Olympic squad - a team that never took to the track because we boycotted the Games! A now aging Glance missed out on teams in '83 and '84. But 11 years later a resurgent, veteran Glance once again mined gold - as the third leg on the Rome relay team. And now 22 years after his final gold medal, Glance is once again on a World Championships team - this time headed to Berlin as coach of the 4x1! Let's hope that his experiences can be parlayed into yet another gold medal.

6. 1991 - Greg Foster wins third 110H title in 13.06. Greg Foster is one of the most underrated and underappreciated hurdlers in history. That happens when you rise on the world stage at the same time as one Renaldo "Skeets" Nehemiah! Fierce rivals in college and then internationally, it seems that Renaldo was always getting the better of Greg. And then just when Renaldo gave it up to play professional football and you think that it was now Greg's world to dominate, poof, there appears Roger Kingdom - who breaks Renaldo's World Record and wins two Olympic titles in a row. But in between it all Greg Foster won the first World Championships 110H title in 1983, and for good measure added the second and third meets to his collection. Only Allen Johnson (with four) would win more.

7. 1991 - Jackie Joyner wins long jump in battle with rival Heike Drechsler. Everyone remembers THE big long jump battle that took place in Tokyo - Powell v Lewis. But unfortunately few remember the OTHER long jump battle that took place between Joyner and Drechsler - perhaps the two most talented female athletes from the mid 80's through the mid 90's. Drechsler competing in the sprints and long jump (WR setter in the 200 meters), Joyner in the Heptathlon and long jump (WR setter in both). They are only two of a half dozen women to ever jump over 24 ft and still stand 2nd (Joyner) and 3rd (Drechsler) all time in the event. Their '91 battle nearly saw both reach 24 ft as Joyner went 24' to defeat Drechlser at 23'11" - Drechsler's performance being the longest losing performance ever in a major.

8. 1997 - Maurice Greene wins the 100 in 9.86. Maurice Greene was a promising sprinter in 1995 running a windy 9.88 and defeating then legend Carl Lewis at the Texas Relays. He made the World Championship team that year, but failed to make it out of his quarterfinal. Injury in 1996 found him sitting in the stands at the Olympic Trials and watching as others made the team for Athens. 1997 was different, however, as Greene had multiple PR's at Nationals before going to Athens and defeating Olympic champion Donovan Bailey in near WR time. Athens proved to be the jumping off point for one of the greatest sprint careers in history as Greene went on to win two more World titles in '99/'01 an Olympic title in 2000, set a WR in 1999 and become the first man in history to run 50 legal sub 10 second 100 meter races.

9. 1999 - Wilson Kipketer wins third 800 title in 1:43.30. Kipketer is best known as the man that put the 800 record out of reach of mere mortals with his super 1:41.11 in 1997. What is remembered less is that he was also a very good championship competitor when he wasn't beset with malaria. Malaria kept doing him in during Olympic campaigns, but he was able to win three World titles - more than any other half miler in history - and unfortunately this race in Seville was the last title he would win. If not for his health, one wonders just how much he would have lowered the 800 record!

10. 2003 - Kenenisa Bekele wins 10000 over Haile Gebrselassie. We often see a changing of the guard in major championship events, but typically it's the young lion beating down the old lion as he struggles to maintain his pride. Not so in Paris. Bekele took the mantle of the world's best distance runner by beating the then WR holder in the fastest 10000 meter final EVER. These two warriors put it out there and went toe to toe for 10000 meters. When they crossed the finish line only a second separated them as Bekele won 26:49.57 to Haile's 26:50.77! No shame in defeat for Gebrselassie who has gone on to become the WR holder in the marathon at 2:03:59 while Bekele currently holds the WR's at 5000 (12:37.35) and 10000 (26:17.53). This was easily the greatest ever championship distance showdown.

Keep your eyes open during this year's edition of the World Championships. You never know when you'll be watching history in the making.

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