News14 Jan 2021

1972 Olympic 50km race walk champion Kannenberg dies


German race walker Bernd Kannenberg

World Athletics is saddened by the news that Bernd Kannenberg, the 1972 Olympic champion in the 50km race walk, died on Wednesday (13) at 78.

Born on 20 August, 1942 in Königsberg, Kannenberg didn't start high performance training as a race walker until 1969 at age 27. Just three years later, on 27 May 1972, he shattered the world record in the 50km race walk by nearly three minutes, clocking 3:52:45 in Bremen.

With the record in hand, Kannenberg started as favourite in the Munich Olympic final just over three months later on 3 September, where he faced the reigning European champion Veniamin Soldatenko of the Soviet Union. Kannenberg was aggressive from the outset, leading from the start, with Soldatenko in tow. He finally shook off his rival after 35 kilometres to finish unchallenged in 3:56:11, an Olympic record and the third fastest performance in history.

Kannenberg's victory came on what was to be dubbed "Golden Sunday" for the host nation in athletics. That same day, Klaus Wolfermann notched an upset victory over Janis Lusis of the Soviet Union to win the javelin and Hildegard Falck won the women's 800m title. Heide Ecker-Rosendahl took silver in the pentathlon behind Great Britain's Mary Peters.

Four days earlier, Kannenberg stumbled and fell in the 20km event just after the midway point, and decided to withdraw to conserve his energy for the longer race. 

He competed in both events two years later at the European Championships, finishing second over the 20km distance and ninth over 50km. He made one more Olympic appearance, competing in the 50km race walk in 1976, but was forced to withdraw due to cramps.

He won six German race walk titles, three in the 20km (1972, 1974, 1975) and three in the 50km (1972, 1973, 1975) before chronic injuries forced him to finally retire in 1978.

In 1974 he received the Rudolf Harbig Memorial Prize, an annual honour recognising a track and field athlete who serves as an exemplary role model for young people.

World Athletics

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