World Athletics Championships: Ten track and field greats who ruled the Worlds - but not the Olympics

From Merlene Ottey to Mary Decker, Mike Powell to Steve Cram, these athletics greats were world champions but missed out on Olympic glory.

The Olympic Games must have the better hype man because the World Athletics Championships is often perceived as an inferior cousin in the prestige stakes.

However, since its first staging at Helsinki in 1983, the track and field global gathering has seen scores of jaw-dropping performances - and delivered some of the most famous world records.

Usain Bolt ran the fastest 100 metres and 200m in history at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, Mike Powell's Bob Beamon-beating 8.95m long jump came at Tokyo 1991 and Jonathan Edwards' mind-blowing triple jump of 18.29m was achieved in 1995 in Gothenburg.

Those records still stand, and more stunning achievements are sure to come at Doha 2019.

Athletics greatness need not hinge on winning an individual gold medal at the Olympics, and these 10 past track and field stars serve as proof that World Championship glory can just as easily help secure a place in the pantheon.



Unlike the legendary Beamon, whose staggering leap of 8.90m came in 1968 at Mexico City, Powell could not jump to Olympic gold: he took silver behind Carl Lewis in Seoul '88 and Barcelona '92. But Powell banished Beamon from the world-record lists at the 1991 World Championships when the Tokyo crowd saw him leap 8.95m with his penultimate attempt. Lewis, for once, had to settle for second best in the sandpit. Powell successfully defended the world title two years later in Stuttgart.


Jamaican Ottey competed in seven Olympics - her last in 2004 was representing Slovenia at the age of 44 - and won nine medals, but there was not a gold among them (three silver, six bronze). There is no doubt she ranks among the greatest sprinters of all time, however, claiming fourteen World Championship medals including 200m golds in 1993 and 1995 and a 1991 sprint relay triumph with Jamaica.


Name a more iconic Namibian in sport. We'll wait. Fredericks won Olympic silver in the 100m and 200m at both the 1992 Barcelona and 1996 Atlanta Games, and three world silvers over 200m (1991, 1995 and 1997). Michael Johnson was his long-time nemesis at 200m, but Johnson only entered the 400m at the 1993 Worlds, and Fredericks took advantage by running a then championship-record of 19.85 seconds to snatch gold, powering ahead of John Regis and Carl Lewis.


The 'Jarrow Arrow' could not follow his great rivals Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett to Olympic glory, yet he was a formidable rival to both in an era when British men ruled the middle distances. Cram took silver in the 1500m at Los Angeles in 1984, but a year earlier he had landed World Championship gold in Helsinki when he outran American Steve Scott, Moroccan great Said Aouita and Ovett to take the glory. Cram also held world records at 1500m and the mile.


United States star Decker was famously favourite for 3000m gold at the Los Angeles Olympics, before tangling with Zola Budd and falling, to the horror of watching American spectators. She had been judged the likely champion having triumphed in both the 1500m and 3000m at the Helsinki World Championships. Because of the controversial nature of the Budd incident, the twin triumphs in Finland and multiple world-record runs have been largely overshadowed, but they attest to her greatness.


Kipketer would have been a gold-medal hot favourite for the 800 metres at the 1996 Olympics, but a citizenship dispute rendered him ineligible as he switched from representing Kenya to Denmark. Talent-spotted by Kip Keino, he won world titles in 1995, 1997 and 1999. In 1997 he obliterated Coe's long-untouchable 800m world record, set 16 years earlier. He later landed Olympic silver and bronze medals but the World Championships was where this remarkable athlete shone brightest.


Chicago-born Foster fought a fierce rivalry from the likes of Renaldo Nehemiah, Roger Kingdom and Colin Jackson, and there was simply not enough gold to go around at a time when the 110m hurdles was a standout event. Foster took silver behind Kingdom at the LA OIympics, yet at the World Championships he incredibly won consecutive golds at Helsinki '83, Rome '87 and Tokyo '91.


Cuba's boycott of the 1988 Seoul Olympics, out of solidarity with North Korea, denied Quirot a likely 400m and 800m golden double, given her form that year. Quirot, a remarkable athlete, suffered devastating and scarring grade three burns on much of her body in a domestic accident in 1993. A favourite of Fidel Castro, she won bronze and silver over 800m at the 1992 and 1996 Olympics but pocketed world titles over the same distance in 1995 - on Castro's birthday - and 1997.


The Norwegian was formidable on the track and on the road, winning the London Marathon four times along with triumphs in Boston, Chicago and New York, while also landing a world cross country title. She could finish only fourth, however, in the marathon at the 1984 Olympics and a foot injury forced her out of the Seoul 10,000m when leading the race for gold. At the World Championships, she topped the podium at Rome in 1987 in the 10,000m.


Smith was unfortunate to hit his sprint peak around the same time as Lewis, his fellow American and the dominant athlete of the 1984 Olympics. Smith still scooped 200m gold glory at the 1983 and 1987 World Championships and broke the 100m world record at a domestic event in 1983, also landing bronze over the latter distance in the controversial 1988 Olympic final, having been promoted from fourth after Ben Johnson was thrown out. He won an Olympic relay gold but never topped the podium on his own.