First World Outdoor Championships in Helsinki a landmark for track & field


Tom Surber
Media Information Manager
USA Track & Field
317-261-0478 x317

In anticipation of the 10th IAAF World Outdoor Track & Field Championships later this summer, USATF will take a look back at many of the great moments provided by U.S. athletes at the previous nine World Outdoor Championships with a series of feature stories. The series will continue until the beginning of the 2005 World Outdoor Championships, August 5-14 in Helsinki, Finland. The series begins with a look back at the origins of the World Outdoor Championships.

INDIANAPOLIS - It is by all means appropriate that the 10th IAAF World Outdoor Championships in Athletics will be held this summer at the same place where the inaugural World Outdoor Championships were held in 1983, Helsinki, Finland.

Remembered as an unparalleled success by those who attended the event, the initial World Championships was truly a historic occasion featuring more than 1,300 athletes representing 154 countries. As impressive as the event was, an even greater achievement was that the Championships came into existence at all.

In the first draft of rules by the IAAF in 1913, it was determined that - "The Athletic Events of the Olympic Games shall be recognized as the IAAF World Championships." Since the Olympics served as the World Championships, the prevailing opinion was that a separate World Championships was not necessary. That arrangement went unchallenged for the next 50 years, until the 1960s, when delegates of the IAAF Congress began to express their desire for a separate World Championships to be held.

The tradition remained intact until the mid 1970s when even more delegates expressed their desire for the creation of a World Championships, until eventually the concept was approved by the IAAF Council at a 1978 meeting in Puerto Rico. Three years prior to the inaugural World Championships a meeting was held in Paris, where the 19-man IAAF Council listened to bids from prospective host cities Stuttgart, Germany, and Helsinki. Finally it was determined that Helsinki would host the initial World Championships in a country that held track and field above all other sports. The decision to award the event to Helsinki proved to be an inspired choice.

Held in the 1952 Olympic Stadium, the Championships were presented in an atmosphere where athletes felt comfortable and appreciated by the nearly half a million Finnish fans who attended the event. Millions of television viewers from around the world were treated to tremendous performances from the world's best athletes, including Americans Carl Lewis, Mary Decker, Greg Foster and Edwin Moses, among others, who as a team brought home 24 medals. From the onset it was obvious that Helsinki provided a tremendous stage for the athletes to display their remarkable talents and expose track and field to the world.

Since the beginning of the World Championships in 1983, the growth of the event has been staggering in every area. At the most recent Worlds in 2003 in Paris, records were established in participation with 1,907 athletes representing 203 nations. Additionally, the total number of territories covered by rights holder television contracts rose to 179, with many of those areas reporting ratings increases in viewership.

The 1983 World Championships will always be remembered for great athletic performances and the atmosphere of sportsmanship generated by the appreciative and gracious Finnish hosts. However, the true legacy of what happened in Helsinki is that it gave birth to one of the greatest sporting events the world has ever known. Each successive World Championships has been greater and grander than the one before it. Look for that tradition to continue when the World Championships return to its birthplace in August.