Athletics legends Willie Banks, Gail Devers and IAAF President Sebastian Coe were officially inducted into the AG Memorial Van Damme Hall of Fame at a ceremony in Brussels on Thursday (5).
Banks, the former world record-holder in the triple jump, took part in the Memorial Van Damme five times. After three runner-up places, the flamboyant US triple jumper finally won in 1985 with a phenomenal 17.58m. That jump stood as the meeting record for 10 years until Jonathan Edwards went two centimetres farther in 1995.
“Willie Banks was very loved among the spectators,” said former meeting director Wilfried Meert. “Banks could play the crowd like no one else. He’s the ‘inventor’ of the rhythmic clapping before and during the run-up. These days every athlete asks for the support of the crowd, but Willie started doing that in the 80s at the Stockholm meeting. When he also started doing that in Brussels, he stole the hearts of the crowd right away.”
Two-time Olympic 100m champion and three-time world 100m hurdles champion Devers participated at the Memorial Van Damme five times between 1992 and 2002, resulting in four wins: in 1992, 2000 and 2002 in the sprint hurdles and in 1996 in the 100m flat.
“The general public will know Devers as the athlete with the long and colourful nails, but we particularly remember her for her phenomenal performances on the track,” said Meert. “She's a three-time Olympic champion, five-time world champion and four-time world indoor champion. Her races at the Memorial were always good. In 2002, at the age of almost 36, she won the 100m hurdles in 12.49 – world class!”
Coe took part in the inaugural Memorial Van Damme in 1977 as a 21-year-old, finishing third in the 800m, and returned one year later to win in a British record time. But it was his performance there in 1981 that made history.
One year after becoming Olympic 1500m champion in Moscow, Coe returned to Brussels with one goal: breaking the world mile record, which Steve Ovett had taken away from him two days earlier. He did it in style, taking more than a second off his rival’s mark with a 3:47.33 clocking – the first world record in the history books of the Memorial Van Damme.
“In 1977 nobody in Belgium had heard of Sebastian Coe,” said Meert. “We only added him to the field a day before the meeting at the request of his manager and his father Peter, who was also his coach. We certainly didn’t regret it. The affection between the Memorial and Sebastian Coe was and still is mutual. After his career he came to watch the Memorial many times, and since 2015 he has done so in his capacity as IAAF President."
The Memorial Van Damme Hall of Fame was introduced in 2017 and in its first two years inducted Heike Drechsler, Steve Cram, Merlene Ottey, Hicham El Guerrouj, Kim Gevaert, Tia Hellebaut and Wilfried Meert.
The three new inductees will be honoured during the main competition on Friday, with some of their most memorable moments from the Memorial Van Damme shown on the big screen for the fans.