August 10, 2022

The Greatest Olympic Races of All-Time

I have reposted this article which was initially written in June 2015. The Rio 2016 Olympic Games are underway with the athletics about to start in a few days. Hopefully we will see some more incredible races here which will also go down in history.

Today, 23rd June is a special day for all sports fans as it is World Olympic Day! This is a day where all things Olympic based are celebrated and remembered along with looking forward to what is inevitably to come at the next Olympics, Rio 2016. Here, I have decided to compile a list of what I believe to the some of the greatest ever races in the Olympics over the multiple track disciplines, despite this being a predominantly distance based blog, many of the sprints performances cannot be neglected and easily work their way onto the list.

Here, in order, are my eight favourite and best races which occurring during Olympic games. There is the noticeable lack of any women’s races, but typically these have been less dramatic and memorable races – however, this is not to say that they did occur with some outstanding racing being seen.

8. Michael Johnson, 200m (1996)

The 1996 Atlanta Olympics were historic for the longer sprint events. This would be the first time in which both the 200m and 400m were won by the same person – Michael Johnson. The most historic of which would be the 200m where his distinctive style of running stretched away from the field, smashing the old world record (19.66) to win in 19.32 WR, a world record which wouldn’t be broken for another 12 years.

7. Kelly Holmes, 1500m (2004)

Kelly Holmes is certainly the best middle distance runner the UK has produced, with the pinnacle of her career coming in the 2004 Athens Olympics where she would complete the historic 800m, 1500m double. She would run these races in both very similar fashions, kicking late on in the race, coming from the very back of the field to the from to take dramatic wins over both distances, especially the amazement of completing the double with the 1500m.

6. Hicham El Guerrouj, 1500m(2004)

The men’s 1500m at the 2004 Athens games was an incredible race. The two fastest runners of all time over 1500m, Bernard Lagat and Hicham El Guerrouj. Guerrouj had lost out on Olympic gold in both the Sydney and Athens games but this time produced one of the most amazing and closest finishes in history. Guerrouj would cover the last lap in an unbelievable 51.91 seconds to just edge out Lagat in the last 10m, for me securing his place as the greatest middle distance runner of all time.

5. Seb Coe, 1500m (1980)

As with Holmes, Coe is arguably one of the greatest middle distances runners ever coming from Great Britain, setting multiple world records throughout his career. However, despite being the 800m world record holder, he failed to take the much expected victory over the same distance in the 1980 Moscow games. What would come as a result would be a race which would forever be classed as an Olympic great. The great rivalry between Coe’s compatriot, Steve Ovett was an added factor. Ovett would be the favourite after winning the 800m, but Coe took revenge with an incredible finish.

4. Mo Farah 5,000m (2012)

This race is certainly a much more familiar one to most, with it defining the success of the 2012 Olympics for Great Britain and London. Farah had become a national hero after winning a historic 10,000m the week previously. In this 5,000m he would have to produce an even more emphatic finish than ever before to overcome the opposition with a 52.94 second last lap, making him one of only six men to have ever completed to 5,000m, 10,000m double. What would make this race, as with many other races so memorable would be the commentary. In this case, the BBC commentators Steve Cram and Brendan Foster would make this race even more unforgettable.

3. Usain Bolt, 100m (2008)

For me, and I assume almost everyone else, Usain Bolt is the greatest performer, showman and sprinter of all-time within athletics. He would, only at the age of 22 win three Olympic gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics along with three world records in all events. His 100m record, the first of his golds would certainly be the stand out of the three. Not ever before has anyone seen an athlete start celebrating and easing up before the line whilst on the way to a world record (9.69) showing the world he was the real deal.

2. Haile Gebrselassie, 10,000m (2000)

Before the race which I have placed first, this would have undoubtedly be assumed the greatest track race of all time. Haile Gebrselassie was the definite king of distance running, almost always getting the best of his rival opponent, Paul Tergat. However, Gebrselassie was plagued with an achilles injury which he would fight through to challenge Tergat over the final 250m. The final sprint which was produced would go down in history as certainly one of the closest finishes ever, despite this being a 10,000m race.

1. David Rudisha, 800m (2012)

Finally, we come onto the race which is said – even by the greats themselves such as Seb Coe – to be the greatest race ever to be witnessed in an Olympic stadium. The 2012 Olympics would provide the perfect stage of all for David Rudisha, potentially the greatest athlete you’ve never heard of, to perform what would become the greatest run you’ve ever seen. Being the world record holder already (1:41.01) Rudisha was the firm favourite with a classic front running style. Here would be no different, hitting the bell in 49.28 seconds. he would continue this, leaving the rest of the field in his wake to win in what would be the only WR of this Olympics in 1:40.91. This would also become the fastest 800m ever after the amazing atmosphere would inspire the rest of the field to all hit NRs or PBs. The pace was so fast that the last placed athlete (Andrew Osagie) would have won Olympic gold at the previous three Olympics.

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