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News08 Dec 2015

USA’s rich history of hosting IAAF championships


Flag bearers at the IAAF World Junior Championships Oregon 2014 (© Getty Images)

There are exactly 100 days to go until the IAAF World Indoor Championships Portland 2016 when the USA plays host to the event for the first time since the inaugural edition in 1987.

The USA is one of just five countries to have hosted IAAF championship events across the four main competition surfaces – outdoor track, indoor track, road, cross country – and here we look back on their history of staging these events.

IAAF World Cross Country Championships East Rutherford 1984

Held on the Meadowlands Racetrack, this was the first IAAF World Athletics Series event to be hosted in the USA.

Eight years after taking gold in Chepstow, Portugal’s Carlos Lopes won his second senior men’s title. Less than five months later, he would return to US soil to win the Olympic marathon title in Los Angeles.

Senior women’s winner Maricica Puica also won her second gold medal, having triumphed in 1982. She too would go on to win gold in Los Angeles, albeit over the shorter distance of 3000m.

Although the USA did not have any individual medallists, they still managed to finish second on the medals table after winning the senior women’s team race and taking silver in the senior men’s team competition.

IAAF World Indoor Championships Indianapolis 1987

Although this was classed as the 1st IAAF World Indoor Championships, strictly speaking there had been an IAAF World Indoor Games in 1985. But it was only after that event that the IAAF decided to formally introduce a biennial championships.  

With the popularity of indoor athletics in the United States and in a bid to ensure that the event was a truly global affair, it was therefore appropriate that the United States was chosen as the host for the first official IAAF World Indoor Championships in 1987, which were staged in the massive Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis.

World indoor records had been formally recognised by the IAAF since the start of 1987 and five new marks gave the crowds plenty to cheer across the three days on the first weekend of March.

East Germany's Heike Dreschler was the star of the show in Indianapolis and won two gold medals, flying to a world indoor 200m record and winning the long jump.

Hosts USA won six gold medals, winning all of the men’s sprint events and both men’s horizontal jumps.

IAAF World Race Walking Cup New York City 1987

Just two months after the World Indoor Championships, the attention of the athletics world was again focused on the USA as New York City staged the IAAF World Race Walking Cup.

This, the 13 edition of the event, was the first in which the qualifying rounds were not held.

The three most dominant race walking nations at the time – Mexico, East Germany and the Soviet Union – each came away with individual gold medals.

Ronald Weigel led an East German medal sweep in the men’s 50km event with all three medallists beating the previous championship record. The three medallists in the women’s 10km also bettered the previous championship record with Olga Krishtop taking gold.

IAAF World Race Walking Cup San Jose 1991

Held on the streets of California, the course followed a loop along Park Avenue and Almaden Boulevard.

Having taken gold in the 20km event when the competition was held in New York, Mexico’s Carlos Mercenario struck gold again on US soil, this time in the 50km.

Mercenario’s time of 3:42:03 broke Ronald Weigel’s championship record from 1987. Weigel had to settle for the bronze medal on this occasion.

Mikhail Shchennikov of the Soviet Union, winner of three world indoor titles up until this point, scooped what would prove to be the sole outdoor global title of his career. He went on to take silver medals at the 1991 and 1997 World Championships, 1995 World Race Walking Cup and 1996 Olympics.

Team-mate Irina Strakhova took two gold medals in San Jose, winning the senior women’s 10km and leading the Soviet Union to team victory.

IAAF World Cross Country Championships Boston 1992

USA’s Lynn Jennings was the star of the show.

Returning to Franklin Park, the scene of numerous cross-country races she contested in the early stages of her career, she battled the snowy terrain to win her third successive senior women’s title in front of a home crowd.

“I've never experienced anything like it,” she told reporters. “It felt like a local race, with everyone yelling my name. I'll never forget it.”

In the senior men’s race, John Ngugi won a record fifth title to lead the Kenyan team to victory.

The top two finishers in both junior races would go on to become all-time greats. Ismael Kirui won the junior men’s race from Haile Gebrselassie, while Paula Radcliffe won the junior women’s race from Wang Junxia.

IAAF World Junior Championships Oregon 2014

Twelve years had passed since the USA had hosted an IAAF World Athletics Series event, but Hayward Field in Eugene – also known as Tracktown USA – proved to be the perfect setting.

World junior records were set by 110m hurdles winner Wilhem Belocian and Czech race walker Anezka Drahotova. Championship records fell in five other events, while Morgan Lake achieved an unprecedented double when winning the heptathlon and high jump titles.

USA dominated the medals table, winning a quarter of the gold medals on offer. That tally included a sweep of all the relay titles, bringing the event to a fitting climax.

And fortunately for the athletics-mad fans in Oregon, they won’t have to wait too much longer before the world’s best athletes descend on the United States for the IAAF World Indoor Championships Portland 2016.

Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF

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