Sounds Like a Broken Record

Updated February 11, 2017 | Infoplease Staff
Donovan Bailey (right) leads Michael Johnson by a smidgen as the two come of the turn at their 1997 race to determine “Who is the world's fastest man?” at Toronto's SkyDome.
Wide World Photos

The IAAF, track and field's governing body, made sure not to disappoint the fans at the sports' biggest showcase the World Championship which were held in Athens in 1997. After much debate, the IAAF awarded "wildcard" slots to the defending champions whether they qualified through the proper channels or not.

Johnson bounced back from his injury in June to successfully defend his gold medal in the 400 as a wildcard entry. Spinter Maurice Greene avenged Johnson's loss to Bailey, beating him in the 100m final with a time of 9.86, just .02 seconds off of Bailey's world record time. Ukraine's Sergey Bubka won his sixth consecutive gold in the pole vault. Marion Jones completed the double dip for the Americans in the 100m and won her second gold with the U.S. 4x100 team. The foursome, anchored by Gail Devers, set an American record with their blazing time of 41.47. However, the women's 4x400 team was upset by the Germans, thanks to a lightning-fast anchor leg by Grit Breuer, and settled for silver.

There was a plenty of action outside the World Championships as well. World records fell like hail and the biggest of those to drop was Sebastien Coe's 16-year-old mark in the 800m. Wilson Kipketer, a Kenyan who runs for Denmark, first equaled the mark of 1:41.73 set by the Briton before besting it-for the second time-in August.

Then there was the letdown of the year. It was the biggest disappointment since Dan vs. Dave. But at least we got to see it. Well, sort of. Michael vs. Donovan was unable to settle the question. Still it remains. Exactly who is the world's fastest man? After the months of hype for the showdown at the bastardized length of 150 meters in Toronto's Skydome, the payoff eluded us. Michael Johnson, the American hero in the 200m and 400m from the Atlanta Games in 1996, was representing the U.S. while Donovan Bailey, the gold medal winner in the 100m in Atlanta and the current world record holder in the event, represented Canada. Seconds after it started it was over. Michael Johnson pulled up lame after he was slightly behind coming out of the turn. Some said that Johnson feigned the injury to save face.

While the largely pro-Bailey crowd was ecstatic, it was in many ways a empty win. The only thing that is certain is that it was a terrible day for track and field. It was supposed to be a big moment for the sport, a day when non-fans would turn their attention to track and field and maybe give it its due. Instead everyone was left with a sour taste in their mouths.

Finally, a man who knows a little something about world records, gold medals and what its like to be the world's fastest man retired in September. Carl Lewis, winner of a record nine Olympic golds and former 100m world record holder, hung up his track spikes for good following a relay exhibition at half-time of the Houston-Pitt football game.

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