Series10 Aug 2019

Fab five: surprise winners at the World Championships 


Fab five: surprise winners at the World Championships (© Getty Images)

As we continue our countdown to the start of the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019we remember five surprising gold medal winners at past editions of the biennial event. 


Jong Song-Uk – Seville 1999 - Marathon 

Jong Song Ok wins the marathon at the 1999 IAAF World Championships in Seville


The North Korean athlete caused a sensation to strike the most unexpected of golds in the women’s marathon. Jong came into the race the second ranked North Korean with a relatively modest best of 2:29:54 – but in blisteringly hot conditions the unheralded athlete wiped almost three minutes from her PB to record 2:26:59.  

Ethiopia’s Olympic champion Fatuma Roba appeared set for victory after opening up a clear advantage in the second half of the race. However, with four kilometres remaining Jong and Japan’s Ari Ichihashi caught and passed the Ethiopian. In a tight tussle to the finish the North Koran shaded gold by a three-second margin. Jong never competed internationally again.  


Rens Blom – Helsinki 2005 – Pole Vault 

Rens Blom jumping to the 2005 world pole vault title in Helsinki


Having no-heighted at the 2001 World Championships and failing to reach the final at the 2003 World Championships few would have backed the Dutchman to strike pole vault gold in Helsinki. However, Blom shrugged off the wet, cold and windy conditions to claim top spot courtesy of a first time clearance at 5.80m. Astutely changing his shirt four times during the competition and rubbing Vaseline on his legs to avoid them becoming wet, he edged American Brad Walker and became the first Dutchman in history to win a World or Olympic title. 

“When I woke up this morning and saw what the weather was like I knew I had a good chance of doing well,” Blom later said. 


Jehue Gordon – Moscow 2013 – Men’s 400m hurdles 

Jehue Gordon in the mens 400m Hurdles at the AAF World Athletics Championships Moscow 2013


It would be unfair to brand the Trinidad & Tobago athlete a nobody before the World Championship final. But in a high-class field containing four former world champions; Dai Greene of Great Britain, Felix Sanchez of the Dominican Republic and the US duo Kerron Clement and Bershawn Jackson, few would have earmarked the 21-year-old Gordon as the clear gold medal contender. 

Nonetheless, a big season’s best of 48.00 in Monaco in his final pre-event World Championship outing filled the athlete from the Caribbean with confidence. And in a thrilling final inside the Luzhniki Stadium, Gordon produced the run of his life to wipe 0.27 from his previous national record to stop the clock in 47.69 and pip American Michael Tinsley to gold by just 0.01.  


Ryan Brathwaite – Berlin 2009 – Men’s 110m hurdles 

(L-R) Great Britain's William Sharman, the USA's Terrence Trammell and Ryan Brathwaite from Barbados cross the line of the men's 110m hurdles final at the 12th IAAF World Championships in Athletics


In a competition weakened by the absence through injury of the defending champion Liu Xiang and the world record-holder Dayron Robles, who exited the semi-finals because of injury, Ryan Brathwaite made the most of the opportunity to strike gold.  

Aged just 21, the Barbados athlete revealed his gold medal potential in the semi-final by posting a national record of 13.18 before chipping a further 0.04 from that time in the final to edge the more experienced US of duo Terrence Trammell and David Payne by 0.01 in a frantic finish. Brathwaite finished fifth in the London 2012 Olympic Games but that was to prove the last global final of his career. 


Donald Thomas – Osaka 2007 – Men’s High Jump 

Donald Thomas in the high jump at the 2007 IAAF World Championships in Osaka


After converting from the sport of basketball just 19 months earlier, the Bahamian was crowned world high jump champion courtesy of a first time clearance of 2.35m.  

Thomas had entered the competition as joint world-leader alongside Olympic champion Stefan Holm but few expected him to finish top of the pile ahead of the Swede or the experienced world indoor champion Yaroslav Rybakov. Yet Thomas operating an unorthodox “Fosbury Flop” technique had too much for the opposition to be crowned world champion. Now aged 34, Thomas still competes today but his triumph in Osaka remains his crowning glory. 

Steve Landells for the IAAF