Tom Hurst examines the phenomenon of athletes who have won multiple titles
This summer Greg Rutherford joined the echelons of the world’s greatest athletes, having sealed the world title in Beijing with his second best leap ever.
For him it’s the culmination of an overnight success that took a decade to achieve, and maybe the “lucky” tag can be dispensed with once and for all.
This addition to his medal collection means he has, as the BBC coined it, become a member of the “famous five”. It truly is a rare event for an athlete to hold titles at the Olympics, the Worlds, the Europeans and the Commonwealth Games at the same time in the same event.
Given that the most recent championships to be introduced was the Worlds in 1983, of course that means athletes like Mary Rand, Lynn Davies, David Hemery among many other Olympic champions could join this club.
Steve Ovett’s two failed attempts at the Worlds eliminate him. Lord Coe, the new IAAF president, never ran at the Worlds and the other great miler of that era, Steve Cram, who won in the Helsinki Worlds in 1983, three Commonwealth golds and two European golds, “only” has an Olympic silver to his name. Steve Backley’s three Olympic medals and two world medals do not include a gold.
“It truly is a rare event for an athlete to hold titles at the Olympics, the Worlds, the Europeans and the Commonwealth Games at the same time in the same event”
As you can see, it is not easy to be a grand slam winner. Mo Farah can’t join the club until 2018, the year of the next Commonwealth Games. I’m not as strict as the BBC in terms of eligibility. Yes all five: Daley Thompson (1980-1986), Linford Christie (1990-1994), Sally Gunnell (1992-1994) and Jonathan Edwards (1998-2002), alongside recent champion Rutherford, have owned all four titles at the same time.
I take the view that merely winning all four titles is a great achievement.
So in my view the pressure is off in this regard for Farah if he doesn’t win in Rio or London over the following two seasons. It would just be that the “famous five” did it “better”.
A study of athletics grand slams would display more than just these five. If we forget about winning the European title, which only the British nations, Cyprus, Gibraltar and Malta could achieve, we should consider Commonwealth athletes from Africa and the Americas.
The first name that jumps out is Maria Mutola, who won Olympic, world African and Commonwealth titles, albeit not holding all at the same time. Valerie Adams doesn’t have a viable continental championship to compete in but deserves an honourable mention for her two Olympics, four world and three Commonwealth titles.
If you could replace one of her three world indoor titles for the lack of a continental success then she makes the list, but alas…
“Usain Bolt has won gold medals at the Worlds, Olympic and Commonwealths, but needs to compete at the Pan-American Games to complete his slam. He may have to delay retirement plans until 2019!”
Now what if you’re not lucky enough to be European or part of the Commonwealth – what chance of a slam? The French have the Francophone Games and the Spanish and Portuguese have the Ibero-American Championships, but what happens if you don’t have ties to a former colonial power?
The potential grand slam stops with three in that case. I guess that works for Carl Lewis, who won Olympic, world and Pan-American titles.
Consider high jumper Javier Sotomayor. He has accumulated the following: one Olympic (1992); two world (1993/97); four world indoors (1989/93/95 and 99); one world junior (1986) and one World Cup (1994). Throw in a World Student Games title (1989), three Pan-American golds, three Central American and Caribbean Games wins, two Central American and Caribbean championship titles and four Ibero-American wins. Not bad as a non-member of the grand slam club.
Usain Bolt has won gold medals at the Worlds, Olympic and Commonwealths, but needs to compete at the Pan-American Games to complete his slam. He may have to delay retirement plans until 2019!
Canadian high jumper Derek Drouin has won the world, Commonwealth, Francophone and Pan-American titles and could claim a unique grand slam of five in Rio.
Having said all the above, no matter what, Rutherford truly is the newest member of a very exclusive club.
» Tom Hurst is a member of the National Union of Track Statisticians