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Worlds have come a long way since 1983





Usain Bolt and Yelena Isinbayeva are the legitimate heirs of Carl Lewis and Sergey Bubka, who launched their careers at the inaugural world athletics championships in 1983.

The sprinter/long jumper Lewis and pole vaulter Bubka became the most celebrated athletes of their generation after initial success in Helsinki.

Lewis's achievement of 10 overall medals, eight of them gold, is unrivalled while Bubka is the only athlete with six world titles on one event.

Now Bolt has redefined the sprint with 100m and 200m world records at the 2008 Olympics and 2009 worlds in Berlin. The Russian pole vault queen Isinbayeva is not as successful as Bubka and even no-heighted two years ago, but her presence in Daegu will surely be electrifying.

"The IAAF World Championships are the third largest sporting event on the planet after the Olympic Games and the (football) World Cup and there is no bigger single sport championships taking place anywhere in the world this year," Lamine Diack, president of the ruling body IAAF said in an interview with the German Press Agency dpa.

Diack has named the championships "a precious jewel" which have "an impressive history" since the debut 28 years ago.

The IAAF did not decide until 1976 to hold world championships as a separate event after earlier naming Olympic gold medallists world champions.

When 1,355 athletes from 154 countries met in Helsinki, it was still the height of the Cold War.

The top athletes in the sport met for the first time since the Munich Olympics in 1972, as the famous African runners were not in Montreal 1976, the US and other western countries boycotted the 1980 Games in Moscow.

The world has changed and the championships grew steadily, with 1,984 athletes from 201 countries present in Berlin. Nine editions have been staged in Europe, Japan hosted the worlds 1991 in Tokyo and 2007 in Osaka, Daegu marks the debut in mainland Asia, and there was a North American edition 2001 in Edmonton.

However, the most successful nation at the worlds, the US, are yet to host the event.

Americans Lewis and Michael Johnson lead the overall tally, with Lewis on 8-1-1 and Johnson on a perfect 9-0-0 with his 400m world record from Seville 1999 still valid.

Lewis's silver comes from an epic long jump duel in Tokyo in which rival Mike Powell took gold with a world record 8.95m.

Bubka's six golds have gone down in history along with his 34 career world records, Jonathan Edwards' triple jump world record from 1995 in Gothenburg is unforgotten and Ethiopia's Haile Gebrselassie ruled the 10 000m for a decade from 1993 onwards before handing the baton to compatriot Kenenisa Bekele.

That 1993 event in Stuttgart also saw Merlene Ottey's heartbreaking 100m photo-finish defeat to Gail Devers in the 100m and remains unrivalled for crowd support.

But the worlds have also seen their share of doping and other disgrace.

Italian judges "helped" Giovanni Evangelisti to a long jump bronze 1987 in Rome before TV evidence later revealed that the home boy had not jumped that far. American sprinter Jon Drummond was kicked out in 2003 for a furious false start protest.

Ben Johnson lost his 100m title and world record from 1987 in the aftermath of his Olympic doping shame the following year. In 2003, Kelli White was stripped of her 100m and 200m double for substance abuse in what turned out to be the first case related to the Balco lab scandal which eventually also hit Marion Jones.

Held every four years in the beginning, the worlds changed to a two-year rhythm in 1991 due to the appeal of the event which has allowed more than 80 countries to celebrate medals.

With the old amateur rules abolished by the International Olympic Committee, the IAAF also introduced prize money, with a gold medal worth 80 000 dollars since 1997 and a world record another 100 000.

© Sapa-DPA


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