The world athletics governing body has made yet another important leap into restoring the sport’s history by receiving priceless souvenirs from track and field’s iconic trailblazers at a memorable reception in Monaco on Sunday night.
Nostalgia swept through the Le Meridien Hotel when International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) President Seb Coe and the association’s head of heritage Chris Turner received, among other artefacts, an original, 106-year-old Olympic gold medal winning javelin.
At the highly emotional ceremony, track and field’s “fantastic seven” were honoured posthumously with Turner, a veteran, trained journalist, leading the night’s proceedings with well articulated flashbacks that vividly recollected the sport’s early days. Between them, these legends accounted for 29 Olympic gold medals and an incredible 99 world records.
They included Great Britain’s Emil Voigt, the last British athlete to win a long-distance running gold medal at the Olympics prior to Mo Farah’s 2012 London double, “Phantom Finn” Paavo Nurmi, Czech’s nine-time Olympic gold medallist and Emil Zatopek, the “Human Locomotive” who achieved a unique treble at the 1952 Olympics, winning the 5,000 metres, 10,000 metres and marathon a feat never achieved before or ever since.
Others honoured were Dutchwoman Fanny Blankers-Koen, the “Flying Housewife” who won four gold medals at the 1936 and 1948 Olympics, Sweden’s Eric Lemming, the first javelin world record holder in the modern IAAF era and Poland sprinter Irena Szewinska, one of the most successful multi-talented athletes of all time.
US sprints legend “Bucketeye Bullet” Jesse Owens was also honoured for his immense contribution on and off the track.
Competing in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Owens set five world records and equalled a sixth, all inside 45 minutes on May 25, 1935.
He also won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.
On Sunday, Owens’ family donated to the IAAF’s heritage project the original, red Ohio State Buckeyes team vest the legend wore on his exploits, while a Swedish athletics club donated the 1952 gold medal winning javelin.
Szewinska’s family gave the IAAF two pairs of her running spikes while Blankers-Koen’s family, represented by her daughter, gave priceless letters written to the Dutch sprinter along with her accreditation documents to the 1936 and 1948 Olympic Games.
“The most important prerequisite of becoming a person of note in your sport is understanding the history of your sport,” Coe, himself an Olympic middle distance legend, said at the legends’ reception.
“You need to understand the extra-ordinary back story, the adversities, the devotion, commitment and extraordinary challenges that some of the athletes we are celebrating tonight overcame to do what they did.
“Just two days before we celebrate the achievements of our modern athletes, today we celebrate the achievements of those who competed in a far simpler age, an amateur era when financial rewards were minimal, but in which the athletes enjoyed global fame which in recent years has only really been shared by Usain Bolt,” added Briton Coe.
On Tuesday, the IAAF will name the best athletes of 2018 who will most certainly be clamouring to reach the dizzy heights of Owen, Nurmi and co.
Besides naming the top athletes for 2018 at the Grimaldi Forum building, IAAF’s Council, that started its 215th meeting here yesterday, will also name host cities for the 2023 IAAF World Championships and 2021 IAAF World Cross Country Championships.
The Athletes’ Intelligence Unit, which looks into issues of, among others, the use of banned substances in athletics, will also hold a press briefing tomorrow that is expected to highlight various sanctions handed to errant athletes.