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Men's 800-Meter World Records

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Men's 800-Meter World Records

David Rudisha celebrates his 2012 Olympic 800-meter victory.

Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
After the IAAF was founded in 1912, the first men’s 800-meter world record the organization recognized was Ted Meredith’s winning time at the 1912 Olympics. Meredith won the gold medal in 1:51.9, in a close race with fellow Americans Mel Sheppard and Ira Davenport, who both finished in 1:52.0. Meredith’s record proved durable, surviving for 12 years until Germany’s Otto Peltzer ran 1:51.6 in an 880-yard race in 1926. The IAAF formerly recognized times in the 880 – which is 804.7 meters – for 800-meter world record consideration, just as it once recognized 440-yard times for 400-meter record purposes. Peltzer also broke the 1500-meter record in 1926, becoming the first runner to hold the 800- and 1500-meter records simultaneously.

Sera Martin of France lowered the mark to 1:50.6 in 1928, then Great Britain’s Tommy Hampson and Canada’s Alex Wilson became the first runners to finish 800 meters in less than 1:50, at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. Unfortunately for Wilson, Hampson was a bit faster. He was electrically timed in 1:49.70, but under the then-current IAAF rules he went into the record books with a time of 1:49.8. Wilson was second in 1:49.9. American Ben Eastman matched the 1:49.8 time in 1934, in an 880-yard event.

Annual Record-Breaking:

The 800/880 record was broken once each year from 1936-39. American Glenn Cunningham began the record parade by running 1:49.7 in 1936. Another American, Elroy Robinson, broke the mark in an 880-yard race, running 1:49.6 in 1937. Sydney Wooderson of Great Britain lowered the record to 1:48.4 the next year – on his way to a 1:49.2 time in the 880 – before Rudolf Harbig of Germany set an enduring mark of 1:46.6 in 1939, running on a 500-meter track in Milan.

Harbig’s record lasted just past 16 years, until Belgium’s Roger Moens ran the 800 in 1:45.7 in 1955. New Zealand’s middle distance ace, Peter Snell, then lowered the mark to 1:44.3 in 1962, on his way to a time of 1:45.1 in the 800. Snell was the last runner to set an 800-meter world record in a longer race. Australia’s Ralph Doubell then became the third man to set the 800-meter record at the Olympics, finishing in 1:44.3 (electronically timed at 1:44.40) in Mexico City in 1968.

Dave Wottle was the last American – as of 2013 – to put his name in the 800-meter record books as he matched Doubell’s 1:44.3 time at the 1972 Olympic Trials. One year later, Italy’s Marcello Fiasconaro lowered the mark below 1:44, finishing in 1:43.7. Cuba’s Alberto Juantorena – who only took up the 800 at his coach’s insistence in 1976 – then broke the record twice. Juantorena set his first mark, 1:43.5, as the surprise winner of the 1976 Olympic gold medal. He then edged the record down to 1:43.4 at the World University Games the following year.

Sebastian Coe – Lord of the 800:

Great Britain’s Sebastian Coe owned the 800-meter world record for the longest time, from July 5, 1979 through Aug. 13, 1997. Coe set his first mark of 1:42.4 in Oslo, which was electronically timed at 1:42.33. The latter number was inserted into the record books when the IAAF began mandating automatic timing for the mark in 1981. The 800-meter mark was also the first of three world records Coe set within less than six weeks in 1979, as he went on to break the mile and 1500-meter marks. Coe later lowered his 800 mark to 1:41.73, in a 1981 race in Florence.

Kenyan-born Wilson Kipketer was running for Denmark when he matched Coe’s mark in July of 1997. Kipketer then claimed the record for himself the following month, running 1:41.24 in Zurich. Kipketer lowered the mark to 1:41.11 just 11 days later, on Aug. 24, giving him three world-record performances within about six weeks.

Rudisha Takes Charge:

Kipketer’s record lasted two days short of 13 years, before Kenya’s David Rudisha ran consecutive races of 1:41.09 and 1:41.01 just one week apart in August of 2010. Rudisha – who trained under the same coach who once taught Kipketer – then lowered the mark to 1:40.91 with a dominating gold-medal run at the 2012 London Olympics. Rudisha ran 49.3 seconds for the first half of the race and 51.6 over the final 400 meters.

Read more:
Track and Field Records Main Page
Men’s 400-Meter World Record Progression
Men’s Mile World Record Progression

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