Athletics: Worlds set for big return to Europe

Forty years after its first edition, the world athletics championships get underway in Budapest on Saturday with over 2,000 athletes from 202 countries taking part over nine days of what could be record-breaking action.

Launched initially as a four-yearly event at great pains not to undermine the Olympics, the championships switched to biennial in 1993 and, thanks to COVID, this time take place for a second consecutive year following the 2022 event in Eugene in the United States.

Poor crowds and low TV audiences undermined the impact of the first hosting in the sport’s powerhouse nation 12 months ago and, coming on the back of the sea of empty seats at Doha 2019, officials will hope the return to the sport’s European heartland will give it a big lift a year out from the Paris Olympics.

Hungary itself has a woeful world championship record, having never won a gold medal. It has claimed seven silver and seven bronze – half of them coming in the hammer throw.

However, World Athletics says ticket sales have been “strong” and the purpose-built 30,000-capacity stadium, which boasts the same bouncy Mondo track that contributed to so many fast times in Tokyo.

The fans should be in for top-quality action, with WA president Sebastian Coe saying the record-laden first half of the season points to potentially “the best world championships performance-wise of all time”.

Top of the bill on the back of three world records this summer is Kenyan superstar Faith Kipyegon. Still only 29, she is appearing in her sixth world championships seeking a third gold to add to two Olympic 1,500 metres titles.

In the women’s sprints, American Sha’Carri Richardson will hope to make a belated entrance onto the global stage after missing the 2021 Olympics following a positive drugs test and failing to qualify for Eugene.


Jamaica has taken gold in six of the last eight 100 metres finals – five by Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce – who goes again at the age of 36 but is up against it after an injury-hit season. However, 2022 silver medallist Shericka Jackson, the season leader with 10.65 seconds, looks well-placed to continue the Jamaican streak.

Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan goes for another treble, having claimed 10,000/5,000m gold and 1,500 bronze in Tokyo, before winning this year’s London Marathon in her debut over the distance.

The men’s 100 metres looks as hard to call as the 2021 Olympics, when Italian Lamont Marcell Jacobs was the shock champion.

Briton Zharnel Hughes is the fastest in the world this year with 9.83 seconds, closely followed by Kenyan Ferdinand Omanyala. Defending champion Fred Kerly leads the U.S. challenge after Americans swept the podium last year.

Norwegian duo Jakob Ingebrigtsen (1,500m) and Karsten Warholm (400m hurdles) are among the big names expected to triumph in the longer distances.

The field events could start with a bang with the men’s shot on opening night when American Ryan Couser, who added a massive 19cm to his own world record this season, will expect to retain his title.

One person who won’t be back is Nigerian 2022 100m hurdles world champion Tobi Amusan, who broke the world record in the semi-finals last year, but was suspended last month after missing three drugs tests.

Coe says accepting such “negative headlines” is the price to be paid for running an effective anti-doping programme and the medal table 40 years ago would have had a very different complexion had today’s measures been in place.

With sprinters Marlies Goehr and Marita Koch – whose 1985 400m world record of 47.60 remains much quicker than any current athlete – leading the way, the original “state-sponsored” doping regime of East Germany topped the table with 10 golds.

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