Anita Wlodarczyk ()Anita Wlodarczyk () © Copyright

Record-breaking runners-up

Everyone remembers a winner. So SPIKES takes a moment to remember some of the greatest ‘would-have, could-have and should-have’ moments in the history of track and field.

Losing on a high

Only one man in history has jumped higher than 2.42m, but at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in New York last month, Mutaz Essa Barshim jumped 2.42m – and finished second. World champion Bohdan Bondarenko cleared the same height to win, but had a better count-back record.

Mutaz Barshim New York ()

The last time someone jumped higher than him, Barshim was 2 years old...

When’s a world record not a record?

It reads like a brain-teaser: At the 1995 World Championships in Gothenburg, USA’s Tonja Buford-Bailey ran faster than the pre-existing 400m hurdles world record, yet wasn’t crowned as the world record-holder after the race. 

The reason? Kim Batten finished ahead of her. Both athletes had run faster than Sally Gunnell’s world record of 52.74, and just one hundredth of a second separated them in the end. Batten’s 52.61 world record would stand for eight years, with Buford-Bailey still fifth in the all-time rankings.

Two-lap burn-up

At the 2008 Olympics, Wilfred Bungei ran 1:44.65 to win 800m gold. Four years later, he would have finished almost a full second behind the eighth-placed athlete in the 2012 Olympic final.

It turned out to be one of the greatest races of all time with David Rudisha breaking the world record and best marks-for-place being set in all positions, as five men dipped below 1:43 and all eight ran faster than 1:44.

London 2012 800 final ()

London 2012 eighth-placed Osagie would have won gold in 2008

One giant leap for Lewis…

It’s gone down as one of the greatest competitions in the history of athletics. At the 1991 World Championships, Mike Powell broke Bob Beamon’s “unbeatable” long jump world record with 8.95m.

In second, Carl Lewis also exceeded Beamon’s mark with a wind-assisted 8.91m, and followed it with a wind-legal PB of 8.87m and 8.84m. But on that night, Lewis’ best-ever long jump series was only good enough for second place.

Mike Powell and Carl Lewis ()

Two of the best ever long jumpers. Only one's a record holder

What comes after 14?

It has been almost four years since the last 15-metre performance in the women’s triple jump. It’s the longest drought of 15-metre jumps since the barrier was first broken in 1993.

But it hasn’t always been that way. In 2008, Marija Sestak’s 15.03m leap was only good enough for sixth place in the Olympic final!

A whole new level

The heavy downpours at the 2005 World Championships threw up a lot of surprise winners, and Dutch pole vaulter Rens Blom was one of them. His winning height of 5.80m, however, wouldn’t even have earned him top-eight finish at the next World Championships in Osaka, in what proved to be the greatest depth ever in a pole vault final.

Speed freaks

It’s no secret that the USA has probably the greatest depth of sprinters in the world. But the women’s 100m at the 2013 national championships was off the scale. Former world champion Lauryn Williams didn’t make the final, despite running 11.00 in the semis.

In the final, seven women ran 11.00 or better, which tied the record-breaking London 2012 Olympic final for depth – an incredible feat for a domestic field.

100m US trials women ()

Close call - the top 5 were within 10 hundredth of a second of each other

“I once threw an Olympic record”

For six successive global championships, British javelin thrower Steve Backley had come close to winning gold but had missed out on all six occasions, most of the time finishing behind Czech legend Jan Zelezny.

So at the 2000 Olympics, when Backley set an Olympic record of 89.85m in the second round, it looked as though his luck was about to change. But it didn’t, as Zelezny broke the record by 22 centimetres in the very next round to win his third Olympic title.

Getting hammered

Polish hammer thrower Anita Wlodarczyk went to the 2013 World Championships in Moscow in the hope of regaining her title from four years prior, when she set a world record to win gold in Berlin.

In the Russian capital, Wlodarczyk threw a PB of 78.46m – half a metre farther than her world record from 2009 – but it was usurped with the very next throw of the competition. Tatyana Lysenko launched a 78.80m winning effort, 62 centimetres shorter than the current WR of 79.42m held by Betty Heidler, who ironically in Moscow, didn’t even make the final.