I saw my first World Record at the NCAA Championships back in 1970, a clueless seventeen-year-old hitchhiking to Des Moines to see Steve Prefontaine, not expecting to see anything more amazing than the Oregon phenom. But BYU's Ralph Mann outdid Pre that day, breaking the record in the 440H at Drake Stadium with an astounding 48.8 - besting the old mark by half a second. Oh my God!
It took another thirteen years before I saw my second one in person, standing along the fence in Colorado Springs at the 1983 National Sports Festival, watching two world records broken. Up first was 5'5" Evelyn Ashford running a 10.79 in the 100m, establishing a time 0.01 better than the week old mark. It was so exciting it left me wondering if I might see another one - maybe by Edwin Moses later in the day in the 400H.
There was another one but...
Fifteen minutes later Calvin Smith, the University of Alabama senior, had a tremendous start and turned in a 9.93 in the same event, two-hundredths of a faster than Jim Hines' record set in the Mexico City Olympics. Two races. Two World Records. Cool.
It was like these two jump started my streak, because a year later, in 1984, I saw the world record in the 10k by Fernando Mamedes (#3 above) in Stockholm at the DN Galen competition in the 1912 Olympic Stadium. I'm back baby!
Eleven months later I saw my fourth one, a hop-step-jump by Willie Banks in the TJ at the US National Championships in Indianapolis. There was a gap after this record but three years later I regained my mojo and cheered for two more in Indy - one by Flo Jo in the 100m and the other by Jackie Joyner in the Heptathlon. Yahoo!
The other four came in dribs and drabs, over the past twenty-five years.
At times, the rarity of this magic number made me feel I was unique, one of those special individuals who can proudly answer yes on twenty-two of the twenty-four "Have you ever" questions on Facebook. But there was one day last fall which changed my attitude.
At a high school XC meet in Humboldt Park I casually mentioned to Jim Spivey (Latin Academy coach & 3-time Olympian) how many World Records he had seen, thinking my eleven would be close to what he could come up with. Jim thought for a second and then answered my query nonchalantly.
"Gosh, I never counted how many I've seen. But I do remember four...that I was in the race when someone broke the mark." My ego was suddenly deflated.
In other words, he was in the race when 4 World Records were set!
On July 1 1981, Sebastian Coe broke the 1000m mark with a 2:12.18 - Jim was 2nd.
On Aug. 23 1985, Said Aouita broke the 1500m mark with a 3:29.46 - Jim was 10th.
On Sept. 6 1992, Noureddine Morceli broke the 1500m mark with a 3:28.86 - Jim was 4th.
On Aug. 2 1994, Noureddine Morceli broke the 3000m mark with a 7:25.11 - Jim was 4th.
Yikes! His small sampling was already a third of the number I'd experienced so I had no doubt he had seen far more than me. But even Jim Spivey was humble in recounting the World Records he'd watched on those unique days - because he mentioned Steve Scott had seen six World Records from inside the race, between 1979 and 1985. Dang.
So even though I was fortunate bet there to celebrate many marks in person - at least I got to sit in the comfort of the stands and enjoy them. Didn't have to suffer the fatigue. Because if I had been in the races, I think race directors might have banished me from race tracks around the world. And that would have definitely limited my numbers!