With the World Athletics Championships almost upon us, we look back at some of the world records the event has witnessed since its inauguration in 1983
Longest standing record: Stefka Kostadinova, Rome 1987
Kostadinova cleared 2.09m in the high jump at the 1987 World Championships in Rome. In old money that’s 6ft 10¼”. Little did we know then this record would still be standing 35 years later.
The record came after the Bulgarian only cleared 6ft 8¼ at the third attempt—failure would have seen her lose to Russian reigning world champion Tamara Bykova, which would have been a shock as Kostadinova had ten of the highest 13 jumps of all time prior to the competition.
"The record has proved elusive since, two competitors getting to within a centimetre in the 2010s"
Her two failures meant she had to clear the next height to win, and she got over 6ft 9¼ at the second attempt. With Bykova bowing out Kostadinova raised the bar to 6ft 10¼ achieving the world record on her second attempt.
The record has proved elusive since, two competitors getting to within a centimetre in the 2010s without being able to go higher.
Her feat came in the wake of Canadian Ben Johnson smashing the men’s 100m world record seconds earlier.
The underdog’s record: Mike Powell, Long Jump, Tokyo 1991
When Powell re-wrote the men’s long jump record books in Tokyo with an almighty leap of 8.95m, his feat was remarkable for two reasons.
First, it eclipsed the mark of the legendary Bob Beaman, who’d leaped to 8.90m in the rarefied air of Mexico City to win gold at the 1968 Olympics.
Secondly, he set it beating the colossus Carl Lewis, a man whose shadow he’d competed in for a decade. Lewis had reeled off 65 wins in a row in the discipline prior to this Tokyo clash.
More of the same seemed likely when Lewis opened with 8.68m. Powell’s response was paltry by comparison at 7.85m.
Philadelphia-born Powell improved to 8.54, but Lewis seemed invincible, soaring to 8.83m and then posting the longest jump of all time, 8.91, in the fourth round.
The wind speed was beyond the legal limit, so it didn’t count as a world record, but the fist pump as he passed Powell suggested to his rival he’d be bridesmaid again, but no—not this day.
Riled by the gesture, adrenaline pumping Powell surged down the runway and jumped into history with a leap which remains the longest ever 31 years on.
A British landmark: Jonathan Edwards, Triple Jump, Gothenburg 1995
Edwards arrived in Gothenburg in 1995 under a weight of expectation.
He’d broken Willie Banks’ world record less than three weeks earlier and leaped 18.43m wind-assisted, so was expected to deliver not only a gold medal, but also the first ever legal 18m leap.
The 28-year-old would make good on those expectations not once, but twice.
Edwards broke the record in the first round, skimming over the runway before leaping 18.16m. The record would stand a mere 20 minutes before Edwards set another milestone.
"His new record of 18.29m meant he’d become the first man in history to reach the imperial measurement of 60 feet"
A stronger transition from hop to step saw Edwards almost in the pit prior to a jump which left him in no doubt he’d bettered the earlier mark. What he didn’t perhaps appreciate was that his new record of 18.29m meant he’d become the first man in history to reach the imperial measurement of 60 feet.
Five other men have since exceeded 18m, but Edwards’ record stands 27 years on.
Edwards went on to win Olympic gold in Sydney (2000), and on winning Commonwealth gold in Manchester (2002) he held Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth titles simultaneously.
A race between rivals: Dalilah Muhammed, 400m hurdles. Doha 2019
Credit: Filip Bossuyt, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic. Dalilah Muhammad and Sydney McLaughlin raced neck-and-neck in the final of the 400 metres hurdles at the 2019 World Championships in Doha, Qatar
Muhammed’s was the last world record to be set at the 2019 championship in Doha and the only one we’ll feature to subsequently be broken.
Muhammed reached Doha firmly established at the top of the 400m-hurdles rankings. She was the Olympic Champion, having set a new world record of 52.20 three months earlier at the US Championships.
Muhammed thus became only the second woman, after Britain’s Sally Gunnell, to be both Olympic Champion and world record holder.
Muhammed led from the gun with compatriot Sydney McLaughlin in pursuit. The latter stuttered slightly at the hurdle on the crown of the final bend, giving Muhammed a seemingly decisive lead.
McLaughlin gave her a scare with a charge off the final hurdle, but Muhammed held on, lowering the world record to 52.16.
McLaughlin would gain revenge not once but twice, running 51.90 at the 2020 US Championships, making her the first woman under 52 seconds.
The two rivals staged the greatest women’s 400m hurdles race ever at the Tokyo Olympics. Muhammed ran the race of her life to record 51.58, but it wasn’t enough to stop McLaughlin taking her crown in a new world record time of 51.46.
A record within a record: Mixed 4x400m relay, Doha 2019
Mixed gender 4x400m relays were only introduced at 2017 World Championships, so the world record set by the USA in Doha was for an event in its infancy.
Back then, nations had the freedom to choose the order in which their quartet would run and Poland took the gamble of putting their two male athletes on legs one and two.
"The new record of 3:09.34 smashed the previous mark by around three seconds"
USA’s Will London 111 led at the first changeover. Though the Poles swept beyond his fellow racer, Allyson Felix, down the back strait on leg two, she and Courtney Okolo kept the leaders sufficiently in sight. Anchor leg runner Michael Cherry then ran them down comfortably on the final leg.
The Polish gamble failed as they faded to fifth. The new record of 3:09.34 smashed the previous mark by around three seconds and meant a twelfth World Championship gold for Felix, making her the most decorated athlete in the history of the championship, male or female.
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