World Athletics Championships history: How it all started and where it’s going?

In just a few days time, those at the top of the world of athletics will descend on Budapest, Hungary, where the World Athletics Championships are due to take place.

History of World Championships
Photo by Icon Sport.

We’re just days out from the 2023 renewal of the athletics event that is second only to The Olympics Games in terms of prestige, so what better time to look this famous old competition. Where did it all start? What are the most significant World Championships moments? Where does it rank in terms of top-level sporting competitions? Let’s take a look.

World Championships History

So, when did the World Championships first take place? In terms of top-tier sporting events, the World Athletics Championships is relatively new. The first running of this event was in 1983, which makes it a competition that is considerably younger than other iconic events such as Wimbledon, he FIFA World Cup, the Masters, the Grand National and of course the Olympics.

The inaugural World Athletics Championships took place in 1983 in the Finnish capital of Helsinki. The competition came about as a result of the International Olympic Committee taking the decision to drop the men’s 50 kilometres walk ahead of the 1976 Montreal Olympics. The International Amateur Athletic Foundation took to launching its own competition in response and thus the World Athletics Championships was born.

Nowadays, although the Olympics remains top of the tree in terms of prestige, the World Athletics Championships is the number one event from a purely athletics standpoint. After all, there is far more than Athletics at the Olympics, but at the World Championships, it’s all about athletics. Therefore, this is a hugely prestigious event, one that all competitors take incredibly seriously.

US Dominance

Unsurprisingly, the USA have claimed more World Athletics Championships medals than any other country. In fact, it’s not even close. Prior to the 2023 Championships in Budapest, the U.S. have picked up a grand total of 414 medals, which is over 250 more than the second most successful country, which happens to be Kenya with 161 medals. The Kenyans also rank second in terms of total gold medals at the World Athletics Championships. They have 62, which is 121 less than the United States.

The Russians, with their 142 medals, currently sit in third in the all-time medal table. They’ve picked up 19 more medals than closest pursuers Jamaica, while the Germans sit fifth with a total of 123 medals. In terms of overall, all-time medals, Great Britain & Northern Ireland currently sit sixth, though they sit seventh in terms of gold medals.

Memorable Moments at the World Championships

Since its inception back in the early 1980’s the World Championships have served up some superb moments. There’s no shortage of performers to highlight here, but here are some of the most memorable achievements from the last 40 years.

Hassan makes yet another successful switch

The 2019 renewal of this competition took place in Doha and it was in the Qatari capital where the versatile Siffan Hassan showed just how adaptable she is. In 2015, Hassan had claimed the bronze medal in the Women’s 1500 Metres, a fine achievement in its own right. In 2017, she again picked up a bronze medal, this time in the 5000 Metres.

Two years later and Hassan was back for more, but this time she wasn’t seeking bronze, nor was she seeking silver. Having already set a new 5km road race world record earlier in the year, the Dutch competitor set her sights on glory in the 1500 Metres, but first, in what was a bold move to say the least, she took on the 10,000 Metres, which would take place just days before the 1500 Metres Final.

Hassan ran a personal best time of 30:17:62 in the 10k, picking up a gold medal in the process. Most competitors would be done at that point but not Hassan, whose appetite for success was merely sharpened by that victory. A few days later, she improved on her 2015 effort to win the 1500 Metres, coming home in a time of 3:51:95, which happened to be the sixth fastest 1500 Metres time ever clocked by a female athlete.

Nobody, man or women, had won such a World Championships double before Siffan Hassan, and if history tells us anything, it might be a while before she has company in that incredibly exclusive club.

Felix makes history in Osaka

In 2005, Allyson Felix made history by becoming the youngest ever 200 Metres world champion, but that was just the beginning for the American, who soon went on to bigger and better things in Osaka in 2007.

Despite facing what appeared to be incredibly fierce competition in the form of Jamaican speedster Veronica Brown, Felix once again went above and beyond, running under 22 seconds for the first time in her career, which was enough to give her a second world title. At the same championships, she went on to pick up another gold in the 4×100 Metres Relay, before securing a treble of first-place finishes when playing her part in the US’ 4×400 Metres Relay success the next day.

Truly a remarkable competitor, Allyson Felix claimed four World Championships gold medals by the age of 21. As things stand today, she is the most successful World Championships athlete of all time, both in terms of gold medals and overall medals. Still going strong but with plans to retire in 2024, Felix currently has a total 20 World Championships medals to her name, 14 of which are gold.

Notable mentions

There are so many great World Athletics Championships moments, too many to cover in depth, so here are some other notable mentions:

  • Michael Johnson sets 400 Metres world record which stands for 17 years at the 1999 World Championships in Seville, Spain.
  • Yulimar Rojas wins third triple jump gold medal at the 2022 World Championships in Oregon, USA.
  • Mo Farah wins gold in both the 5000 Metres and 10000 Metres at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow, Russia.
  • Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce blows the competition away to land a 100 Metres/200 Metres sprint double at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow, Russia.

There will be plenty of athletes looking to etch their name into World Championships history this time around in Budapest, but can they do it? Will we see new stars emerge? Will a familiar name earn yet more glory? Time will soon tell.

What does the future hold?

The 2023 Championships have the potential to be one of the best yet. There’s records to be broken, new records to be set and a whole host of hopeful athletes looking to leave their mark on the Hungarian capital.

The tournament has now gone from strength to strength and as far as performers in the world of athletics are concerned, the World Championships is right up there with the Olympics in terms of prestige. Just ask any of the incredible performers like Michael Johnson, Allyson Felix, Mo Farah, Siffan Hassan, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce or Yulimar Rojas how important this competition is.

Thinking beyond the athletic feast that is soon to take place in Budapest, the World Championships will travel to Japan in 2025, where Tokyo will be the hosts city.

Subscribe to Punditfeed on Google News for all the latest updates from the world of sports!