We focus on the men’s 400m as part of our event-by-event look back at the IAAF World Championships

The inaugural 400m champion, in Helsinki in 1983, was Jamaica’s Commonwealth champion Bert Cameron. The three-time American collegiate winner won in a disappointing 45.05.

Fifth at 200m in 21.8, he finished strongly to have a clear win over unheralded Mike Franks, who had started the year with a PB of only 48.74. The quickest finisher in the last 200m was another American Sunder Nix. A clear last at 200m in 22.2, he held his form well, having only scraped through as a fastest loser from his semi-final.

Fifth in Finland as a teenager, Thomas Schonlebe progressed to a suspicious 44.33 to win gold four years later in Rome.

Even quicker in the semi-final was Nigerian Innocent Egbunike, who sped to a 44.26 win and in the final, he went through halfway in 21.14, but the East German, who was fourth in 21.40, was much the stronger.

The pre-event favourite was Butch Reynolds, who had set a low-altitude world best of 44.10. However, not at his best with intestinal problems, he only scraped into the final by 0.03, although he went on to take bronze in 44.80.

Britain’s promising 21-year-old Derek Redmond looked a likely medallist as he won the early rounds in 45.33 and 45.03 and followed up with a national record of 44.50, which 27 years later still leaves him fifth on the UK all-time list. In the final he could only finish fifth in 45.06.

Britain’s chances looked even better in Tokyo in 1991. Double European champion Roger Black won his semi-final by a huge margin in a mightily impressive 44.64.

Black looked in control as he passed 200m, two metres clear in a brisk 21.15. He was still ahead at 300m in 32.06 but tied up near the finish and his 44.62 saw him pipped by the other semi-final winner, Antonio Pettigrew. The American, who won in 44.57, later admitted human growth hormone and EPO usage between 1997 and 2003 and, though he subsequently lost four world and Olympic relay medals in that period, he was allowed to keep his one individual gold from 1991. Two years after losing his gold medals he committed suicide in 2010.

In Stuttgart in 1993, Reynolds, by then world record-holder, returned from a doping suspension to run a fast 44.13 in the final but he was well beaten by the 1991 world 200m champion Michael Johnson. Johnson eased through 200m fourth in 21.65, blasted the third 100m in 10.47 and then hung on to win in 43.65, which was the third quickest time ever.

Kenyan Samson Kitur, who had won the semi-final ahead of Johnson in 44.34, which was down on his 44.18 Kenyan record from the 1992 Olympic semis, took bronze in 44.54. Olympic champion Quincy Watts, who had won the other semi-final in 44.63, was a distant fourth in the final after one of his shoe soles broke.

After fast British times in the past championships, no UK runners broke 46 seconds in an otherwise successful championships in Germany.

In Gothenburg in 1995, Johnson went out quicker than two years ago in 21.26 and then blazed the bend in a remarkable 10.29 to win by a huge margin in 43.39 and miss the world record by just 0.10.

He became the first runner to defend a world or Olympic 400m title and his margin, in his 46th successive 400m final victory, was the biggest in a global final since 1896.

Reynolds was eight metres back despite his 44.22, while Greg Haughton denied Kitur a second bronze. Britain’s Mark Richardson was not far behind in fifth with Black, who was to return to his best a year later in Atlanta, seventh.

Johnson made history again in Athens in 1997 as the first wild-card gold medallist as returning champions were given an automatic place. However, he was far from his best. Beset by injury problems, he lost his unbeaten record in June and then only reached the quarter-finals as a fastest loser by 0.05 as he eased down too early.

In the final at 200m he was seventh in 21.64 as Iwan Thomas blasted to a big lead in 21.00 with fellow Brit Jamie Baulch second on 21.32. Thomas had won the British trials in the still-standing British record of 44.36. Johnson was up to third at 300m and won by a few metres in 44.12 from Ugandan Davis Kamoga’s 44.37. Just missing a medal was Richardson, who improved his best to 44.47. Thomas (44.52) and Baulch (45.22, after a 44.69 semi-final) faded to sixth and seventh.

Though Johnson had won four global 400m titles, he was still missing the world record to go with his 200m time in Atlanta. A class apart, he showed his form with a 43.95 semi-final. In the final, held in ideal conditions, he eased through 100m in 11.10, moved up to equal fourth at 200m in 21.22 and pulled clear at 300m in 31.66. He held on down the straight with a 11.52 last 100m to win by more than a second in 43.18. That last 200m, a rare sub-22, saw him take 11 hundredths off Reynolds’ mark and won him a $100,000 bonus to go with his $60,000 first prize.

With Jerome Young and Pettigrew eventually suspended for doping, Richardson gained his third successive top-five. He ran 44.65 after a 44.47 semi-final to match his Athens final and give him what are still the two fastest British times in the World Championships.

Edmonton in 2001 was of a more modest standard and won by Bahamas’ Avard Moncur from giant German Ingo Schultz, who failed to match his 44.66 semi-final PB in the final. Haughton, in his fourth final, edged Pettigrew, also in his fourth, by just a hundredth as USA failed to make the podium for the first time.

Richardson, who might have made the final if the disqualified Pettigrew wasn’t in his heat, was again the leading Brit.

Young was first across the line in Paris in 2003 in 44.50 but later lost his gold due to a lifetime ban for doping. Ultimately the 1997 semi-finalist Tyree Washington was advanced to the gold in 44.77 as he barely held off Mark Raquil’s 44.79 French record. Six hundredths covered the eventual first four.

USA maintained their dominance in Helsinki in 2005 as Olympic champion Jeremy Wariner dominated, surviving a 21.1 first 200m and 31.9 300m clocking to win easily in 43.93 and become the first Caucasian to dip below 44 seconds. Andrew Rock and Chris Tyler both set sub-44.5 PBs behind him. Tim Benjamin, who had beaten Wariner at Crystal Palace before the championships, ran the fastest heat of 44.85 and was a solid fifth in the final.

The American was in even better form in Osaka in 2007 and, though only third at 200m in a fast 20.92, a 10.66 third 100m gave him a time of 31.58, which was up on Johnson’s world-record time. He couldn’t quite maintain that, but his 43.45 put him third on the all-time list. LaShawn Merritt was inside 44 seconds for the first time with 43.96 for second. Chris Brown produced a second successive 44.50 and again placed fourth behind Angelo Taylor, who ensured a USA clean sweep.

The Berlin 2009 final saw Brown lead at 200m before fading to fifth as Merritt proved too strong for Wariner and won in 44.06, after a 21.49 halfway time. Britain’s Michael Bingham ran a PB 44.74 semi-final, which would have easily won a medal in the final, where he was almost a second slower.

Having failed a drugs test and his suspension ending on July 27, Merritt was lucky to defend, having only qualified with a wild card. His 44.37 heat was the fastest first-round time in global history, but he couldn’t match that form in the final and he was just edged by 18-year-old Kirani James, who won in 44.60.

Olympic champion James wasn’t in the same form in Moscow in 2013 and, trying to match a rampant Merritt, he blew up to finish seventh in 44.99 as the American sped to a world-leading PB 43.74 to go to fifth all-time and better his 2008 Olympic winning time by a hundredth of a second.


Year | Winner | Time | Top Brit
1983   Bert Cameron (JAM)   45.05   6th sf Todd Bennett 46.11
1987   Thomas Schonlebe (GDR)    44.33   5th Derek Redmond 45.06 (44.50sf)
1991   Antonio Pettigrew (USA)   44.57   2nd Roger Black 44.62
1993   Michael Johnson (USA)   43.65   7th sf Du’ane Ladejo 46.33 (46.17 ht)
1995   Michael Johnson (USA)   43.39   5th Mark Richardson 44.81
1997   Michael Johnson (USA)   44.12   4th Mark Richardson 44.47
1999   Michael Johnson (USA)   43.16   4th Mark Richardson 44.65 (44.47sf)
2001   Avard Moncur (BAH)   44.64   3rd sf Mark Richardson 45.14
2003   Tyree Washington (USA)   44.77   3rd sf Daniel Caines 45.29
2005   Jeremy Wariner (USA)   43.93   5th Tim Benjamin 44.93 (44.85 ht)
2007   Jeremy Wariner (USA)   43.45   6th sf Tim Benjamin 46.17 (45.44 ht)
2009   LaShawn Merritt (USA)   44.06  7th Michael Bingham 45.56 (44.74sf)
2011   Kirani James (GRN)   44.60   7th sf Martyn Rooney 46.09 (45.30 ht)
2013   LaShawn Merritt (USA)   43.74   6th sf Nigel Levine 45.60 (45.41 ht)

Top-5 points (8 for 1st etc)
USA 186
JAM 41
GBR 41
GER 27
BAH 23

» Find other event-by-event history features here