Athletics is a truly international sport. At the 2017 IAAF World Championships over 200 countries had athletes participating. At any given time during the championships, participants could be sharing the stadium with athletes from a such a vast array of countries, the UN would be put to shame. Athletics has often provided the backdrop against which some of the greatest examples of the triumphs of the human spirit have played out. Among these triumphs, I believe that athletes who enter for more than one event in their individual capacity provide some of the best athletic inspirations.
At the 2017 World Champs both Caster Semenya and Wayde van Niekerk attempted historic doubles. Caster – the 800m and 1500m, Wayde the 200m and the 400m.
This got me thinking. Across the years some really historic doubles have been attempted. These are a few of my favourite and surprising ones.
Gail Devers: 100m & 110m Hurdles – Olympics (Barcelona 1992 & Atlanta 1996) IAAF World Champs (Stuggart 1993)
In Barcelona, Devers won 100m gold. However in the final of the 100 m hurdles, she hit the final hurdle and stumbled over the finish line in fifth place, leaving Voula Patoulidou the upset winner. Atlanta was almost a repeat of Barcelona with Devers again winning gold in the 100m and finishing fourth in the 100mH. But at Stuggart World Champs in 1993 She won gold in both events. There are so many things amzing about Devers’ doubles. She was diagnosed with Graves before Barcelona and competing at all was not even a certainty for her. The 100m/100mH doubles is rarely done. And Devers’ nail game was something else to watch on the start line.
Marie-José Pérec: 200m & 400m (Atlanta 1996)
The Atlanta Games seemed to be about Michael Johnson’s double. We often forget Marie-José in all of that. But in Atlanta she won both the 200m and the 400m. She would withdraw from Sydney 2000 for uncertain reasons. But her feat in Atlanta is one for the history books, where she beat the favourites for the 200m title. Of course the fact that Mary Onyali of Nigeria won the bronze in that race has no bearing on my opinion here. Not in the slightest! Ahem. Also the French stadium announcer was so excited that he put so many syllables into her last name, it came out sounding like Péreeceeh!
Hicham El Guerrouj 1500m & 5000m (Paris 2003 & Athens 2004)
Hicham El Guerrouj is one of my favourite athletes and in a previous post I mention him as one of the reasons why we should all love athletics. At the 2003 IAAF World Champs in Paris, El Guerrouj won gold in the 1500 and silver in the 5000m.
In 2004, knowing that he was almost at the end of his abilities, he was billed to run both the 1500m and 5000m at Athens. A huge ask for someone who had twice failed to win an Olympic gold and had a relatively poor start to his 2004 season. In the 1500m El Guerrouj narrowly beat Lagat by 0.12 seconds to win gold. Four days later El Guerrouj won the 5,000 m beating the great Kenenisa Bekele to 2nd place. He is considered by some (Me! Me! Me!) the greatest middle-distance runner of all time.
But some people enter for more than two individual events. Imagine.
There are the Carl Lewis Triples: 100m, 200m & Long Jump (Replicating Jesse Owens’ feat in 1932)
At the 1984 Olympics Carl Lewis won gold in all three individual events he entered for. Now that is some strong ish! At Seoul 1988, he almost replicated this feat, but was beaten into silver medal position by Joe DeLoach. Still for many this is why Carl Lewis is considered one of the greatest athletes ever.
However, I still think credit should be given to Multi eventers who participate in 10 (men) or 7 (women) events for one medal. They are phenomenal. Here are some of my favourites:
Daley Thompson: Decathlon gold in 1980 & 1984 Olympics and 1983 World Champs
Ashton Eaton: Decathlon gold in 2012 & 2016 Olympics + 2013 & 2015 World Champs. Decathlon silver in 2011 World Champs. Also World Record Holder!
And of course there is Jackie Joyner-Kersee who took this multiple thing to another level. Heptathlon + Long Jump gold 1988 Olympics; Heptathlon gold 1992 Olympics. Long Jump bronze 1992 Olympics; Heptathlon + Long Jump gold 1987 World Champs. That is gold after 8 events! She is the bossest boss.
Long live athletics.
Long may we watch it.