The longest-standing individual world record in athletics is the 1:53.28 for the women’s 800 metres set by Czech athlete Jarmila Kratochvílová in Munich, Germany on July 26, 1983. At the age of 32, Kratochvílová improved on the previous record of 1:53.43 set by Nadyezhda Olizaryenko of the Soviet Union during the Summer Olympics in Moscow three years earlier. Interestingly, prior to July 26, 1983, the world record for the women’s 800 metres had been broken 23 times since World War II but, at the time of writing, has now stood for over 37 years; according to Svetlana Masterkova, who won the gold medal in the women’s 800 metres at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta in 1996 in a time of 1:57.73, the record ‘will last for 100 years’.
Kratochvílová attracted worldwide attention because of her emergence from mediocrity at an age when most track and field athletes would be considering retirement and her unusually broad-shouldered, flat-chested, ‘masculine’ physique. She never failed a drug test, but competed in an era when state-sponsored doping was rife in Warsaw Pact countries, including Czechoslovakia, so her record, was, is and probably always will be treated with suspicion. Indeed, in 2017, European Athletics proposed that all athletics world records set before 2005, including those never subject suspicion, be expunged to remove any lingering doubts about doping scandals.
Michael Johnson was the preeminent figure in athletics in the Nineties and, such was his domination of the 400-metre event, arguably the greatest runner ever to compete at that distance.
In the 400-metre final at the World Athletics Championships at the Estadio Olímpico in Seville, Spain on August 26, 1999, Johnson produced a new world record time of 43.18 seconds.
In so doing, he beat the previous best, 43.29 seconds, set by fellow American Harry Lee Reynolds Jr., popularly known as ‘Butch’ Reynolds, in Zürich, Switzerland on August 17, 1988. Reynolds’ record was a significant improvement on the previous mark, 43.86 seconds, set by compatriot Lee Evans at the Mexico City Olympics on October 18, 1968; Evans’ record was set at an altitude of 7,349 feet and annotated as such in some record books, but nevertheless stood for nearly twenty years.
Achieved at low altitude – Seville is just 23 feet above sea level on average – Johnson’s record did not stand for quite so long, but it was not until August 14, 2016, nearly 17 years later, that is was finally broken. In the 400-metre final at the Rio de Janiero Olympics on August 14, 2016, South African Wayde van Niekerk won the gold medal in a new world record time of 43.03 seconds, 0.15 seconds faster than Johnson. Johnson described the result as ‘a massacre’ and speculated that van Niekerk, aged just 24 at the time, might be able to achieve what he could not by running 400 metres in less than 43 seconds.
Arguably the most iconic symbol of the modern Olympic Games, the Olympic rings were designed by Charles Pierre de Frédy, Baron de Coubertin in 1912 and publicly presented for the first time in 1913. By that stage, Baron de Coubertin was president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), having played a pivotal role in the revival of the Olympic Games in 1896.The Olympic flag, bearing the Olympic rings, was officially raised for the first time during the opening ceremony of the Games of the VII Olympiad in Antwerp, Belgium in 1920.
The full colour version of the design consists of five uniformly-sized, interlocked, coloured rings centred on a white background. From left to right, the Olympic rings are coloured blue, yellow, black, green and red; the blue, black and red rings are positioned at the top and the yellow and green rings at the bottom. According to Baron de Coubertin, ‘This design is symbolic; the five colours are those that appear on at least one of all the national flags of the world at the present time united by Olympism.’ According to the Olympic Charter, ‘The Olympic symbol expresses the activity of the Olympic Movement and represents the union of the five continents [Asia, Africa, North and South America, Europe and Australia] and the meeting of athletes from throughout the world at the Olympic Games.’
The world record for the triple jump, which stands at 18.29 metres, or exactly 60 feet, was set by Englishman Jonathan Edwards at the World Athletics Championship in Gothenburg, Sweden on August 7, 1995. Indeed, Edwards had already broken the world record twice before that year, jumping 17.98 metres – a centimetre further than the existing record, set by Willie Banks in 1985 – in Salamanca, Spain on July 18 and improving his own record by 18 centimetres, or 7 inches, when jumping 18.16 metres in the first round in Gothenburg.
Edwards retired from professional athletics in 2003 but, while American Kenny Harrison jumped 18.09 metres at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, USA on July 27, 1996, it was not until the World Athletics Championship in Beijing, China on August 27, 2015, that anyone really came with hailing distance of Edwards’ record. On that occasion, another American, Christian Taylor, was involved in a protracted battle with Cuban Pedro Pablo Pichardo before producing a final jump of 18.21 metres. That effort remains the closest anyone has come to beating the world record in two-and-a-half decades, although yet another American, Will Haye produced the third-best jump in history, 18.14 metres, in Long Beach, California, USA on June 29, 2019. Nevertheless, Edwards remains the first and, so far, only man to jump 60 feet and his world record has acquired an almost ‘mythical’ quality.