The 100 Greatest
Runs, Jumps, and Throws
of All Time
Ethiopia’s Abebe Mekonen bounced up and down and waved at Feyisa Melese to hurry up. The team from Great Britain had already taken off on the final leg, and Mekonen was eager to chase after their anchor leg, Karl Harrison. It was the I.A.A.F. World Challenge Road Relay in Hiroshima in 1986. The first leg ran 10 kilometers, the second ran 7, third ran 8, fourth ran 5, and Mekonen was going to run 12.195—together, they would complete a marathon. But Melese was spent. By the time he finally reached Mekonen, the team from Oceania had passed the Ethiopians and Mekonen was 41 seconds behind first place. Melese handed the racing sash (no batons were used; racers passed a sash like the ones used Ekiden relays) to Mekonen, who took off and quickly looped the ribbon over his left arm, readying himself for the pageant that was the race. Once in pursuit, Mekonen slowly, but surely, started reeling in Harrison.
As the race unfolded, it did not look like much on the broadcast. Mekonen remained the size of an ant in the back of the shot that focused on Harrison, but he inched his way closer and closer. By the time he had run 30 minutes, Mekonen was within about 40 yards. When he reached the stadium where they would have 500 meters to go, Mekonen was on Harrison’s shoulder. They entered the track on the homestretch, and Mekonen surged to the lead. Harrison did not let up despite being passed, however, and stayed on Mekonen’s heels as they both worked the backstretch—their strides extending and drawn out compared to the early stages of their runs. Meknonen looked back again and again before finally breaking Harrison. Around the turn he extended his lead and crossed the finish line with his arms raised in a lazy V.
Ethiopia won the first—and, it would turn out, only—I.A.A.F. World Challenge Road Relay. The event would return in 1992 as the rebranded I.A.A.F World Road Relay Championships before fading out in 1998, disappearing into track and field’s history.
The run has not, however, disappeared for good—it has been ranked No. 100 in Løpe Magazine’s “The 100 Greatest Runs, Jumps, and Throws of All Time.”
The title of the project explains what we set out to do: Rank the greatest track and field competitions and road races of all time, from 100 down to one.
It was not an easy process.
With the help of some friends, I compiled a list of memorable races throughout history. (Yes, we know that Let’s Run has a bracket for the best race of the decade, and please enjoy if you like, but you can also scroll through our rankings that date back to the dawn of time and are nowhere near the message board.)
Then, I set up a ranking system. Points were awarded to runs, jumps, and throws based on the following categories: Historical Significance (whether track nerds are still talking about this race), Excitability (how fun the race was to watch), Real-World Significance (did this matter to non-track fans?), and a less formal category of Hype (think “It-factor” or, how much did this make your jaw drop when you watched it?).
We also included a category of Controversy (drugs or something else) that allowed points to be taken away. For example, Ben Johnson’s race in 1988 still made the list, but is much lower than it would have had he been clean. You can see a link to our rankings, here (and please actually read through the list before you jump to rankings).
It should be noted that this list skews toward U.S. Track and Field and middle-distance races. There is probably also some recency bias. This does not mean there are no foreign races, it simply means a sweep by three American women in a hurdle race in 2016 is going to have a lot of sway in the Hype category because watching that race in Rio was, simply put, incredible. We also attempted to do our best to include multiple events and not include too many of one event or person (don’t worry, Eliud Kipchoge does make the list twice, but sorry Nick Symmonds’ 2008 Olympic Trials race, we already have a lot of 800s!).
There is probably a lot more to explain, but we have 100 feats of human capability to get to.
Please feel free to disagree, and please send all complaints to the Russian Doping Control, they have great record keeping, I’ve been told by bots on Facebook, so I’m sure they’ll get me the information.
Without further ado…
THE 100 GREATEST RUNS, JUMPS, AND THROWS OF ALL TIME
Each event is listed in a headline followed by the date and the score based on the Løpe Scale (with 40 being the perfect score).
Click below to see the runs, jumps, and throws with the corresponding rankings: