Geb loses two WRs in one night
A third world 10,000m title and world records over 5000m and 10,000m in the build-up to the World Championships meant 1997 marked arguably Gebrselassie’s best season to date although the Kenyans, no doubt tired of trailing the great Ethiopian whenever they stepped foot on the track, launched a coup d’etat in the penultimate big meeting of the summer in Brussels that year.
Thirteen days prior to the penultimate ‘Golden 4’ meeting (as it was known then), Daniel Komen couldn’t offer any resistance to Gebrselassie’s penetrating sprint finish in Zurich and the Ethiopian, who only contested the 10,000m at the World Championships, decisively defeated the world 5000m champion on the last lap and improved his WR down to 12:41.86.
Gebrselassie was absent from Brussels though, and Komen stole the limelight by becoming the first man to break 12:40 for 5000m with 12:39.74. Salt was added to the wound about an hour later as Paul Tergat broke through the 26:30-barrier with a 26:27.85 world 10,000m record.
These world records didn’t last a year though as Gebrselassie wrestled them back from the Kenyans’ grasp in 1998 and they remained untouched until Kenenisa Bekele took the mantle of the world’s greatest distance runner from Gebrselassie in 2004.
Kipketer breaks Coe’s WR
The 1997 World Championships aren’t remembered as a particularly vintage edition but the post-champs Grand Prix circuit played host to a spree of record breaking performances, including Wilson Kipketer in the 800m. The most impressive aspect of the record was his speed on the first lap as he passed through the bell in about 48.5 – more than a second faster than when Seb Coe set the world record of 1:41.73 in 1981!
Kipketer, who equalled Coe’s world record earlier in the season, claimed it outright with a 1:41.24 performance in Zurich, which he then improved to 1:41.11 eleven days later in Cologne.
Ashford’s world 100m record
The US and Eastern Bloc boycotts of successive Olympics didn’t achieve much beyond watering down most events in Moscow and Los Angeles but thankfully, we weren’t completely deprived of the US vs. Eastern Europe clashes as most of the world’s top athletes descended on Zurich and Brussels for clashes largely viewed as the de facto Olympic finals.
One of the best clashes was over 100m in Zurich which pitted together Evelyn Ashford and Marlies Gohr. The clash was all the more mouthwatering because not only was Gohr absent from Los Angeles, Ashford pulled up in the world final a year earlier and, of course, missed Moscow because of the US boycott.
Gohr bolted from the blocks but Ashford’s second half was the stronger and, as she was sometimes guilty of, Gohr lost her form when Ashford pulled even and the American came through to improve her world record down to 10.76 to Gohr’s 10.84.
Blake demonstrates 200m potential
Yohan Blake was never considered a slouch before his 19.26 performance in Brussels over 200m but the consensus was, if he was going to beat Usain Bolt, this was more likely to happen in the 100m. This assumption was altered after the world 100m champion moved to second on the world all-time rankings and within one-tenth of Bolt’s world record with an astonishing run at the Ivo Van Damme Memorial to which Bolt said, somewhat in jest, he would never give advice to Blake on how to run a race again!
Blake’s turn wasn’t particularly special and he came off the bend even with Walter Dix but the Jamaican blasted clear of the American in the straight.
Decker outduels Puica
The Decker-Budd narrative of the 3000m from the 1984 Olympic Games obscures the fact the race was a wholly anti-climactic affair although the leading protagonists from the LA final had a series of gripping (although largely forgotten) races in the 1985 season, including the mile in Zurich.
This was the first time Mary Decker and Maricica Puica had met since the Olympic final and the American came out on top ahead of a battling Puica with Zola Budd third. The first two were under the previous world record (held by Puica, incidentally) and the race added further speculation Decker would have won the Olympic final had she stayed on her feet.