Series01 Jun 2019

Fab five: Rome reflections


Fab five: athletics moments in Rome (© Getty Images)

Ahead of the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Rome on 6 June, we toast five unforgettable athletics moments to have ignited the Eternal City.


Hicham El Guerrouj’s world 1500m record


Hicham El Guerrouj breaks the world 1500m record in Rome


Regarded by many as the greatest middle-distance runner of all time, the Moroccan superstar produced one of his outstanding feats in Rome by obliterating the world 1500m record by 1.37 to stop the clock in 3:26.00.

Running at a staggering average of a little under 55 seconds per 400m, the long-striding El Guerrouj laid waste to the field in the Olympic Stadium to create history with a devastating display of speed and endurance.

The seven-time world champion and double Olympic champion set five world records during his illustrious career but it could be argued his 1500m world record, which still stands some 21 years on, was his finest accomplishment.

Moses Kiptanui’s world 5000m record


Kenyan distance runner Moses Kiptanui


The three-time world steeplechase champion may have been best known for his exploits over the barriers, but the Kenyan was also a supremely prodigious performer on the flat.

Kiptanui had earlier that year set a world indoor 3000m best in Gent, and in a vintage showdown over 12-and-a-half laps edged Daniel Komen – who set a world U20 record – to slice 1.66 seconds from Haile Gebrselassie’s world record time in a history-making 12:55.30.

Voted athlete of the meeting, Golden Gala organisers then presented the slightly bemused Kiptanui with an 18-month-old race horse for his efforts.

Sergey Bubka v Thierry Vigneron pole vault clash


Sergey Bubka in action in the pole vault


On an unforgettable late summer night inside Rome’s Olympic Stadium, fans witnessed not one but two world records in an epic men’s pole vault competition.

In the race for the sky, charismatic Frenchman Thierry Vigneron struck first, clearing 5.91m to add one centimetre to Sergey Bubka’s world record mark. However, the Ukrainian vaulting legend (then representing the Soviet Union) hit back with the perfect counter punch to clear 5.94m and reclaim the record.

On a breathless night, Bubka later attempted the landmark six metres. Although unsuccessful on this occasion, he was to achieve the feat for the first time in Paris the following year.

Stefka Kostadinova’s world high jump record


Stefka Kostadinova, winner of the high jump at the 1987 IAAF World Championships in Rome


At the IAAF World Championships in Rome, the brilliant Bulgarian capped winning her maiden global outdoor title by adding one centimetre to her own world record with a spectacular 2.09m clearance.

Earlier in the competition, Kostadinova had stared defeat in the face. Defending champion Tamara Bykova of the Soviet Union had successfully negotiated 2.04m with her first attempt while the Bulgarian required a third-round clearance to stay in the fight for gold.

Calm restored, the statuesque Bulgarian sealed gold at 2.06m before unleashing her world record mark, which still remains unsurpassed.

Abebe Bikila’s Olympic marathon triumph


A barefooted Abebe Bikila wins the 1960 Olympic marathon in Rome


The 1960 Rome Olympic Games produced a treasure trove of memories, from Herb Elliott’s world record-breaking performance in the men’s 1500m to Wilma Rudolph’s sprint treble.

Yet for sheer theatrical drama, nothing can top Abebe Bikila’s stunning success in the marathon.

The unknown and barefoot Ethiopian – who was a late inclusion on the team – surprised many to win over the classic distance in an Olympic record and world best time of 2:15:16. His ground-breaking success helped spark the East African distance-running dominance we see today.

Steve Landells for the IAAF