News24 Jun 2022

Athletissima Lausanne's illustrious history marked by Heritage Plaque


Athletes compete at the 1981 Athletissima (© Athletissima)

Athletissima Lausanne (1977) has today (24) been awarded the World Athletics Heritage Plaque to mark the Swiss meeting’s 45-year history.

The historic accolade was conferred today to coincide with the Wanda Diamond League meeting’s press conference, at which the major stars of this year’s edition were declared.

The World Athletics Heritage Plaque is a location-based recognition, awarded for 'an outstanding contribution to the worldwide history and development of the sport of track and field athletics and of out-of-stadia athletics disciplines such as cross country, mountain, road, trail and ultra-running, and race walking'. 

“Congratulations to Athletissima Lausanne on the award of the World Athletics Heritage Plaque, which marks the meeting’s important place in the development of the international invitational track and field circuit,” said World Athletics President Sebastian Coe.

“Athletissima has been entertaining crowds of spectators in Lausanne for 45 years. Born as the Lausanne International Meeting in the Coubertin Stadium in 1977, its growing popularity meant a change in venue and name eight years later. The Pontaise Olympic Stadium has been hosting ‘Athletissima’ ever since.

“This Heritage Plaque recognises the energy, time, strength and self-sacrifice of the meeting’s organising team who, led by Jacky Delapierre, have helped put athletics firmly centre stage in Lausanne, the Olympic capital.”

Inexorably upwards

The meeting’s history did not get off to an auspicious start, with torrential rain subduing performances at the first competition. Yet that wet beginning, especially the passion and enthusiasm exuded by the soaked spectators who stayed to support the equally wet athletes, confirmed this was no ordinary competition nor audience.

The athletes were so impressed that they made the exceptional decision to return later in the same season to compete again. On 3 August 1977, the athletes and spectators returned in dry conditions and the competition began its history in earnest.

USA’s Leroy Burrell gave Athletissima its first world record in a standard Olympic event. On 7 July 1994, Burrell ran the 100m in 9.85, improving Carl Lewis’ mark by one hundredth of a second. In 2005, Russia’s Yelena Isinbayeva flew to 4.93m in the pole vault, raising her own record by 1cm. The next year China’s Liu Xiang gave the meeting its third world mark, clearing the barriers to establish a 110m hurdles world record of 12.88, which improved the time he set at the 2004 Olympic Games (12.91).

While the marks by Isinbayeva and Liu still stand as meeting records today, Yohan Blake’s 9.69 at the 2012 edition of Athletissima is the fastest 100m ever run in the Diamond League, let alone Lausanne.

In 2020, the Covid pandemic restricted Athletissima to city centre action and the men’s pole vault produced, as Simon Turnbull described for the World Athletics website, “a competition for the ages, Duplantis and Sam Kendricks duelling inexorably upwards as the sun set over Switzerland’s fourth largest municipality. It was the first contest in which two men cleared 6.02m, the Swede prevailing with 6.07m and his US rival clearing 6.02m.”

The Stade Olympique de la Pontaise, which was built in 1954 and holds 15,850 people, will be the permanent home of the World Athletics Heritage Plaque honouring Athletissima Lausanne. The plaque will be displayed on a wall next to existing historic markers which commemorate the world records set at the stadium.

World Athletics Heritage