Within the last month, Almaz Ayana, Keni Harrison and Ruth Jebet have gone second all-time in their respective events, missing world records by the narrowest of margins. Here are seven other athletics near misses.
1. Steve Jones
There can be no crueller world record to miss, and no crueller margin to miss it by, than the marathon by one second. But that was the fate of tough-as-teak no-nonsense Welshman Steve Jones, who covered the 42.2km distance en route to victory in the 1985 Chicago Marathon in 2:07:13 – just one second slower than 1984 Olympic champion Carlos Lopes ran in Rotterdam earlier in the year.
Famous for never running with a watch, Jonesy wasn’t one to chase times, but even the British Royal Air Force aircraft technician was annoyed to miss out on the $50,000 prize money he would have banked had he run just two seconds quicker that October day in the Windy City.
“If I had known that I was so close to the world record, I would have bettered it,” he says. “If there had have been a clock at the top of the straight, I might have started my kick earlier.”
2. Mike Conley
Elastic-legged American Mike Conley secured the triple jump gold medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics with a monster 18.17m – some 20cm (that’s two thirds of a foot, in old money) clear of his compatriot Willie Banks’ seven-year-old world record.
Yet Conley was denied a cherry on top of his Olympic cake by just one tenth of a metre of second of wind – the tiniest breath – as his mighty leap had a tail wind reading of +2.1m/s (the allowable limit for record purposes is 2 metres per second).
The record set by Banks (who, incidentally, invented the rhythmic hand clap) was to hold firm for a further three years until Jonathan Edwards obliterated it with his iconic 18.29m leap at the Gothenburg World Championships.
3. Ivan Pedroso
In 1995, in the cloud covered village of Sestriere high in the Italian Alps, Ivan Pedroso leapt 8.96m to better Mike Powell’s (then) four-year-old world long jump record by one centimetre. Everything seemed tickety-boo for the Cuban colossus (see main image) after a wind reading of +1.2m/s was recorded. He was presented at the post-competition press conference and was even given the keys to a shiny Mercedes-Benz as reward for taking Powell’s record.
However, the Italian track and field federation recommended the mark not be considered because (depending on which version of events you believe) an Italian coach had interfered with the wind gauge during all six of Pedroso’s jumps. The distance was not submitted to the IAAF for ratification. 21 years on Powell’s mark still stands as the world record.
4. Brimin Kipruto
On a windless July night in the Stade Louis II in Monaco in 2011, Brimin Kipruto fell a heartbreaking 0.01 shy of Kenyan-born Qatari Saif Saaeed Shaheen’s steeplechase world record. Kipruto, the 2008 Olympic champion, blew the opposition apart with a 60-second final lap to stop the clock in 7:53.64. Yet it was not quite enough to take out the world record, which still stands today.
It was a race of staggeringly high quality. Ezekiel Kemboi (who went on to win Olympic gold at London 2012) climbed to fourth on the all-time lists with 7:55.76 and (2010 Diamond Race winner) Paul Koech seventh with 7:57.32.
“The race was so fast for everyone I didn’t even know it was a world record pace,” said Kipruto after the race. “When I saw the clock I was just so grateful. Next time at the 2011 World Championships I will try and break the world record.”
Unfortunately for Kipruto there was no world record in Daegu (not even close) as he had to settle for silver behind Kemboi’s dancing feet.
5. US men’s 4x400m team
For 20 long years the scintillating world record performance of the US 4x400m quartet at the 1968 Olympics had appeared invincible. Aided by the high altitude setting of Mexico City, the well-oiled team of Vince Matthews, Ron Freeman, Larry James and Lee Evans recorded a blistering 2:56.16 to take gold and the record.
A generation on, the 1988 US “dream team” were fancied to break the mark.
The team comprised of the 1-2-3 from the individual 400m, Steve Lewis (43.69) Butch Reynolds (43.94) and Danny Everett (43.79), supported by Kevin Robinzine (44.74). They looked on as Reynolds, the anchor, steamed down the home stretch and flashed by the line. The time was 2:56.17, and then it was rounded down to 2:56.16. They had equalled the mark, but had missed out on their ultimate goal.
It took the USA four more years to finally break the record again at the Barcelona Olympics.
6. Osleidys Menendez
A mighty hurl of 71.53m delivered Cuban javelin thrower Osleidys Menendez Olympic gold with her first round throw at Athens 2004. It was a moment that could have been even more historic, as Menendez had come up short by an single agonising centimetre on the world record she had set three years earlier in Rethymno on the Greek island of Crete.
Still, Menendez, who had finished third at the Sydney Games four years earlier, seemed oblivious to that fact and was simply elated to have struck Olympic gold.
“I have been waiting for this moment all my life,” said a very excited Menendez. “Just imagine how I must be feeling, coming into the Olympic Games and finding [nearly] the best form of my life.”
Her throw that day still stands as the Olympic record.
7. Tonya Buford-Bailey
You have to feel for Tonya Buford-Bailey. In an epic 400m hurdles final at the 1995 Gothenburg World Championships, the American not only missed out on gold by 0.01 to her compatriot Kim Batten, but also missed out on the world record by the same margin as Batten (52.61) lowered Sally Gunnell’s mark set at the previous year world championships in Stuttgart.
Buford-Bailey had held a marginal advantage at the penultimate hurdle but Batten just outleaned her on the line. The pair still sit in fourth and fifth on today’s all-time lists.