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World Records Achieved at the Olympics

By: Scott McBride - Updated: 4 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Altitude Mexico Sea Level Olympics

The high altitude of Mexico City, which is 2,240 metres above sea level, made the 1968 Olympics difficult for athletes in the endurance events. Yet the altitude, which meant the air contained 30 per cent less oxygen than at sea level, was an advantage in events that needed a brief but intense effort. As a result, a host of sprinting and jumping world records fell.

Other factors may have had a bearing too. The use of a synthetic material on the athletics track was a first, and, while events were timed both manually and electronically, for the first time the electronic time was the official one. Certainly, many of the records stood the test of time.

American Bob Beamon shattered the long jump world record by 55 centimetres with a leap of 8.90 metres and almost 23 years went by before Mike Powell bettered it. The USA 4x400m relay team of Lee Evans, Larry James, Ron Freeman and Vince Matthews cut 3.44 seconds off the world record with two minutes 56.16secs and it stood for almost 24 years until another USA team improved on it by 0.42secs at the Barcelona Olympics.

Americans Dominant

In the individual 400m, Evans ran 43.86secs - a world record for almost 20 years, Tommie Smith became the first man to break 20secs in the 200m (19.83secs) and Jim Hines, another American, set a 100m world record of 9.95secs that stood for almost 15 years.

The triple jump world record fell five times during the Mexico City Games, with Soviet Viktor Saneyev's 17.39m coming out on top. It was 36cm better than the pre-Games world record of Poland's Józef Schmidt. Brit David Hemery broke the 400m hurdles world record (48.1secs) and the 4x100m relay world record, broken by Jamaica in the heats, fell to the USA team of Hines, Ronnie Ray Smith, Charlie Greene and Melvin Pender (38.2secs).

A glut of women's world records fell too. American Wyomia Tyus took the 100m (11.08secs), Poland's Irena Szewinska the 200m (22.5secs), Romania's Viorica Viscopoleanu the long jump (6.82m) and the 4x100m relay world record fell to the USA's Margaret Bailes, Mildrette Netter, Barbara Ferrell and Tyus (42.8secs).

Seven for Spitz

At the Munich Olympics four years later, Mark Spitz made a one-man assault on the record books. He broke seven world records on his way to the same number of gold medals - all within the space of eight days.

The 200m butterfly (2:00.70), 200m freestyle (1:52.78), 100m butterfly (54.27secs) and 100m freestyle (51.22secs) records all fell to Spitz. In the relays, David Edgar, John Murphy, Jerry Heidenreich and Spitz took the 4x100m freestyle record (3:26.42), John Kinsella, Fred Tyler, Steve Genter and Spitz the 4x200m freestyle record (7:35.78), and Mike Stamm, Thomas Bruce, Heidenreich and Spitz, who swam the butterfly leg, the medley relay record (3:48.16).

One of the most impressive world records of recent times was set by American sprinter Michael Johnson in the 200m at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Johnson had clocked 19.66secs at the US Olympic trials to shave six hundreds of a second off the 17-year-old world record set by Italian Pietro Mennea at altitude in Mexico City. In the Olympic final he ran a phenomenal 19.32secs to defeat Namibia's Frank Fredericks by four metres. The record still stands 12 years on.

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