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World Athletics Championships Oregon22

Series27 May 2021

Japan's seven wonders: World Indoor Championships Maebashi 1999


Japan's seven wonders - World Indoor Championships Maebashi 1999 (© AFP / Getty Images)


In the latest in our Tokyo countdown series we focus on another memorable global athletics event staged in Japan as we fix our gaze on the 1999 World Athletics Indoor Championships in Maebashi.

Setting the scene

The seventh edition of the World Athletics Indoor Championships was staged in the Green Dome – an 8000 capacity indoor arena primarily used as a velodrome – in Maebashi, Japan. The three-day event ran from 5-7 March 1999. It was the first occasion the championships had been staged outside of Europe or North America. Nearly 500 athletes from 124 participating nations featured at the event.

Broken records

Both the men’s and women’s world 4x400m records were lowered inside the Green Dome. In the men’s event, the USA, inspired by a scintillating anchor leg run by Milton Campbell, trimmed 0.22 from their eight-year-old world record to stop the clock at 3:02.83, finishing ahead of silver medallists Poland, who posted a European record time of 3:03:01 for the second fastest time in history.

Russia dismantled their women’s 4x400m record by more than two-and-a-half seconds, recording a jaw-dropping 3:24.25. The triumphant team did so with three quarters of the same line up that had set the previous mark two years earlier at the World Indoor Championships in Paris.

In a further measure of the quality of the event, championship record marks were set in 11 events.

Headline acts

Haile Gebrselassie and Gabriela Szabo lit up the endurance events by both completing the previously unprecedented 1500m and 3000m double. The achievement was particularly noteworthy because it required both athletes to race three times across the three-day programme (heats and finals of 1500m and straight final for the 3000m).

For the Ethiopian Gebrselassie, it represented a further demonstration of his incredible versatility. The world and Olympic 10,000m champion at that time stepped down to 1500m to win the title in a championship record of 3:33.77 – the shortest distance over which he earned a global title in his long and storied career. In a mirror image, the Romanian Szabo achieved her double with a 1500m championship record of 4:03.23.

Home stars

For the second time in World Indoor Championships history, a home athlete failed to win a medal (the other in 1989 when Hungary failed to find the podium at the Budapest edition).

Japan’s leading performer was Koji Ito who placed fifth in the 200m final in 20.95, having set Asian indoor records in the heats (20.73) and semi-finals (20.63). Masaki Morinaga also produced a respectable display, setting a Japanese record of 8.07m to place seventh in the men’s long jump.

Talk of the town

Cuban jump stars Javier Sotomayor and Ivan Pedroso once again impressed, snagging a fourth world indoor title in their respective events. In the latter event, Pedroso defeated Yago Lamela of Spain by just six centimetres in a captivating long jump showdown, soaring out to 8.62m – the second longest ever distance indoors at that time. Sotomayor banked his fourth world indoor high jump title on countback from Russia’s Vyacheslav Voronin after both cleared 2.36m.

The championships witnessed a series of other outstanding memories. Maurice Greene came within 0.03 of his world indoor record to blitz to the 60m title. Meanwhile, in the 200m Frank Fredericks unleashed the second fastest indoor time ever of 20.10 en route to gold.

In the women’s 800m Ludmila Formanova of the Czech Republic blasted to a time of 1:56.90 – the second fastest all-time women’s indoor 800m mark – to break Maria Mutola’s unbeaten streak of 36 successive indoor victories.

The men’s 800m also served up a surprise as world champion Wilson Kipketer of Denmark misjudged his final sprint and had to settle for silver behind South Africa’s shock winner Johan Botha.

Great Britain’s Ashia Hansen produced the third longest jump in history to strike women’s triple jump gold with a leap of 15.02m.


Event organisers introduced a handful of finals during the morning session for the first time in the history of the event.

The super-fast Mondo track on display in Maebashi also ensured a series of scintillating times were posted across the three-day championships.

For the first time, World Athletics put together a daily news programme which reached about 1000 TV broadcasters from around the world and included highlights of the main competition, interviews with the day’s stars and special profiles on athletes from various countries.


Hailed as the greatest World Indoor Championships in history by then World Athletics President Primo Nebiolo, many will look back fondly on an epic championships jam-packed full of star performances from a raft of stellar names in the sport.

Performances right across the board were of the highest standard and the skills of the organisers were also lauded. Five nations (USA, Russia, Germany, Great Britain and Romania) won three gold medals each and 30 nations in total earned at least one podium spot including Kazakhstan, Mozambique and Iceland. A truly memorable World Indoor Championships.

Steve Landells for World Athletics




























World Athletics Steve Landells
World Athletics 大久保マイケル拓磨