I was lucky enough to meet Gärderud 16 years later when the ’92 International Athletics Foundation Gala was held in the majestic Stockholm City Hall, rather than its usual site of ritzy Monte Carlo. Star Swedish athletes were among the guests.
Still lean and angular, Gärderud smiled when I related to him how memorable his Montréal victory was for me. His smile didn’t break as he replied, “Me, too.”
Last Lap Montreal 3000 Meters Steeplechase click here
My most memorable 5K wasn’t a record, but it sure was a screamer in terms of competition. At the ’03 Worlds in Paris-Saint Denis, Morocco’s Hicham El Guerrouj burnished his historic résumé by first winning his fourth consecutive 1500 title.
Meanwhile, Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge was just an up-and-coming 18-year-old. Yet the pair waged a last-lap battle for the ages, while edging ahead of 10,000 champion Kenenisa Bekele. El Guerrouj had forged into the lead with 800 to go, holding Bekele and Kipchoge at bay until the final bend. Then Bekele dropped back slightly, while Kipchoge held on tenaciously.
|Bekele, Kipchoge, El Guerrouj|
And Kipchoge, who turned 32 last November, compiled a stellar 5K career record since that initial Worlds victory: ’04 Olympic bronze and ’08 silver and ’07 Worlds bronze. But after turning to the marathon in ’13, Kipchoge has reached a new level of brilliance, winning the ’16 London title in 2:03:05 to become No. 4 all-time and then taking the Olympic gold last summer in Rio.
And the August 13 meet didn’t disappoint, starting with Boit Kipketer’s 7:59.08 steeple record. Shortly after, Wilson Kipketer cut down his own 800 record to 1:41.24. Then in the meet’s closing race, Ethiopia’s grand master Haile Gebrselassie covered 5000 in 12:41.86.
Three World Records—and all in just 70 (yes, seven-oh) minutes. But perhaps just as amazing was that none of those fresh records lasted more than… 11 days.
It was a stunning late-summer spate of record-setting the sport has rarely seen since. I felt so fortunate to see the first trio of marks—even if their record lives were short-lived.
1997 Weltklasse Steeplechase
1997 Weltklasse 800
1997 Weltklasse 5000
|Viren and Gammoudi on the ground|
1972 Munich 10,000 meters (the fall is at 12:19 on this video)
Not until a mere 50-meters were left did Geb draw even on the outside with his taller foe on the rail. Both runners were sprinting with all they possessed and the capacity crowd was screaming at a thundering level. (Yet for me, it wasn’t the loudest roar in Sydney—more about that in a later installment.)
Each man kept pumping his arms as the finish line crept closer, with Tergat the first to tie up ever so slightly. Geb didn’t edge ahead until about 3 meters remained and both runners dipped like sprinters. The 27:18.20 by Geb turned back Tergat by a bare 0.09 as the pair embraced afterward like the great friends and rivals that they were. Of course, Geb’s ever-present mega-watt smile endeared him to everyone all the more.
It was a race of unforgettable drama and an unmatched display of the highest level of competitiveness.
2000 Sydney 10,000m
I won’t include any marathon memory—simply because I have never viewed any marathon in its entirety. I have seen snatches of 26-milers, mainly at the Olympics and Worlds. But watching a runner or the field pass by at some point in a race doesn’t qualify for me as having “seen” the race.
I loved standing by the side of a road in rural Greece, near the fabled town of Marathon, as the men’s field pattered past very early in the ’04 Games race. I was able to spot Meb Keflezighi among the throng, mainly because he was wearing a white cap with “USA” on the front. So I yelled, “Go Meb!”
And it was thrilling to watch the TV broadcast of the finish in the ancient Olympic stadium in downtown Athens as Meb won his glorious silver medal.
But I have always adhered to a “rule” that the T&FN crew follows: to claim a mark as what we call a “PR seen”—or in this case, a “most memorable” performance—you have to have witnessed that performance from start to finish. So a few seconds as a marathon field runs past don’t count for me. (I will comment later on the “see the whole performance” rule in the javelin section of the men’s field events chapter.)
Then some of us noticed the crowd in the standing-room section at the far end of the stadium beginning to applaud. We also noted an official pushing out someone in a wheelchair. Binoculars quickly revealed who was being wheeled out—and honored eventually by the entire stadium as fans stood and cheered.
Abebe Bikila in Munich
But in early 1969, Bikila was involved in a car accident that left him paralyzed. He eventually regained some use of his upper body—and waved in appreciation when the Munich crowd rose to honor him. He died a little more than a year later, in October of 1973, of a cerebral hemorrhage related to his accident.
While it was tragically sad to see Bikila immobile in a wheelchair—after seeing him run so fluidly and dominantly in film of his two Games wins—he still looked regal in an Ethiopian team blazer as he waved to quietly acknowledge the crowd. It was a privilege to see an Olympic legend be so universally honored that day in Munich.
(Next: men's relays)