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

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, won both distances again at the 2012 Games, the 200m at the 2011 Worlds in Daegu where he was also famously disqualified from the 100m for false-starting.

Pole vault queen Isinbayeva is not as successful as Bubka and has won no major event since the 2008 Olympics, but has always been electrifying and will aim to delight a Russian home crowd in what may be her last major event.

“The World Championships are a triumph, a success story of which we are immensely proud, and this year’s anniversary is one we are delighted to celebrate,” the president of the ruling body IAAF, Lamine Diack, said.

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, while the US and other western countries boycotted the 1980 Games in Moscow.

The world has changed and the championships grew steadily, with 1 974 athletes from 206 countries listed to compete in Moscow at the biggest single sports event apart from the football World Cup.

Moscow marks the 10th edition of the Worlds in Europe, Japan hosted the Worlds 1991 in Tokyo and 2007 in Osaka, Daegu 2011 marked 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’s 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.

Double amputee 400m runner Oscar Pistorius, who is now charged with having shot dead his girlfriend, made a huge impact at his able-bodied worlds debut two years ago.

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 dollars.


Yelena Isinbaeva
Yelena Isinbaeva

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