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Legends made, barriers broken – Berlin’s storied athletics tradition

As the athletics world prepares to descend upon Berlin for the 12th IAAF World Championships in Athletics (15-23 Aug) it’s appropriate to take a quick overview of the German capital’s rich athletics history in which some of the sports greatest legends were made, and numerous significant barriers broken.

Much of the city’s sporting lore revolves around the 1936 Olympic Games which gave the world the legend that is Jesse Owens. Over the years, much has been written about the American who left Berlin that summer with four gold medals, a feat which would go unmatched for an astounding 48 years. In addition to his solo victories in the 100m, 200m and Long Jump at the Olympic Stadium, Owens also teamed with Ralph Metcalfe, Foy Draper and Frank Wykoff in the 4x100m Relay to break through the event’s 40_second barrier. So remarkable was their 39.8 World record that it would stand for two decades until another U.S. quartet clocked 39.5 at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne.There were other barriers broken during those Olympic Games and other World records set. Japan’s Naoto Tajima landed at exactly 16.00m to take Olympic gold, a record which stood for 15 years.

New Zealander Jack Lovelock took Olympic 1500m gold with a 3:47.8 World record. And in the 3000m Steeplechase, Volmari Iso-Hollo of Finland retained his Olympic title and in the process lowered the global best to 9:03.8 in a race where silver and bronze medallists Kaarlo Tuominen (9:06.8) of Finland and German Alfred Dompert (9:07.2) also dipped under the previous mark.

But there is more to the story beyond the historical achievements in 1936.


Owens wasn’t the first American to bring speed to the German capital, nor was he the last.  In August 1929, Eddie Tolan equalled his own 10.4 World record, and at the 1956 World Military Championships, Americans Willie Williams and Ira Murchison became the first to clock 10.1 in the 100m. Nearly 20 years later in 1975, Steve Williams equaled the 9.9 record he shared at the time.

An earlier barrier also fell in the men’s 4×100 when the German quartet of Arthur Jonath, Richard Corts, Hubert Houben and Helmut Kornig dipped under 41 seconds for the first time with their 40.8 at a match against France on 2 September 1929.

In the women’s 100m, East German Renata Stecher Meissner twice clocked 11.0 in Berlin to equal the World record, first in 1971 and then again in 1972. A decade later, another East German, Marlies Gohr, broke her own record with a 10.81 dash at the 1983 Olympic Day Meeting.

Berlin also witnessed several records in the women’s 4×100.  The German quartet of Emmy Albus, Kathe Krauss, Marie Dollinger and Ilse Dorffeldt clocked 46.4 in the heats of the 1936 Games. Heavy favourites for the gold, misfortune hit when Dorffeldt dropped the baton on the


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