Friday marks the 30th anniversary of the day Czechoslovak athlete Jarmila Kratochvílová broke the world record in the women’s 800 metres. Remarkably, the time Kratochvílová set in Munich in 1983 has never been bettered, becoming one of the longest standing records in world athletics.
In July 1983, Jarmila Kratochvílová was 32 years old and known as a 400-metre runner. However, at a meeting in the West German city of Munich preceding that year’s World Championships, she also signed up for the 800 metres.
To the amazement of many around the globe, the masculine-looking Czechoslovak athlete not only crossed the line first; she set a new world record of one minute, 53:28 seconds.
Remarkably, a full three decades later that time has never been surpassed. Indeed, Kratochvílová’s record is the longest-standing individual record in international track and field.
Prior to her run in Munich, the record had been smashed over 20 times in the post-World War II period.
Today a fit-looking 62-year-old who works as a trainer, Kratochvílová says she never expected to still be the record holder in the women’s 800 metres in 2013.
“Not at all. It never occurred to me. I said to myself that it would be beaten in a year, two years, at the next Olympics. I never got excited about the whole thing. Also I didn’t get much for it – just three thousand crowns. Today I’d get a hundred thousand dollars at the big meetings…But the idea that it’d last for 30 years never occurred to me.”
Around a fortnight after entering the record books, Kratochvílová topped the podium in the 400 metres and the 800 metres at the World Athletics Championships in Helsinki. She also set a new world record in the former discipline, which was broken by an East German two years later.
It was highly unusual for runners to compete in both disciplines, a fact reflected in the scheduling at Helsinki. In fact, the Czechoslovak was forced to run in the semi-finals of the 400 metres and the 800 metres final within 40 minutes of each other.
The 1980s is a period associated with the heavy use of illicit steroids by East European athletes and for some the feats of Kratochvílová, who was not hitherto ranked among the world’s best, raised suspicions of foul play.
Several years ago a Czech newspaper indirectly accused Kratochvílová and her former trainer of having used performance enhancing drugs. Both strenuously denied the charge.
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