Track and field’s unbeatables: winning streaks in athletics

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Unbeatable: Iolanda Balas wins gold at the Rome Olympics, 9th September 1960.

After Paralympic tennis hero Esther Vergeer announced her retirement this week, calling time on an outstanding 470-match winning streak, SPIKES decided to celebrate our very own unbeatables.


Iolanda Balas

The Romanian high jumper was the first woman to clear 6ft (1.83m), and was unbeaten throughout her twenties. Balaş won 140 competitions from 1957 to 1967, notching up 14 world records and two Olympic gold medals along the way. At the Rome Olympics in 1960 she won by a massive margin of 0.14 and four years later, in Tokyo, by 0.10. In 1961 she cleared 1.91m, a world record that stood for ten years.

Dr Edwin Moses

At the Montreal Olympics in 1976, a 20-year-old Moses marked his international debut by winning 400m hurdles gold in a world record time of 47.63. From 1977 onwards it took 122 races, 107 finals, nine years, nine months and nine days before anyone beat him. His glittering career featured two Olympic gold medals either side of the Soviet boycott, a bronze in 1988, and two world titles.

Michael Johnson

Another American great, Johnson won 58 consecutive 400m races on a seven-year roll between 1990 and 1997. The sprinting sensation also won 29 straight 200m finals from 1990 to 1992 and put together a 21-race winning streak from 1994 to 1996: both broken by Namibia’s Frankie Fredericks. Johnson, a nine-time individual world and Olympic medallist, continues to have a huge presence in the sport as a popular commentator.

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Steve Ovett

After 42 wins over 1500m and one mile since May 1977, Britain’s Steve Ovett went to the Moscow 1980 Olympics to do battle with his joint 1500m world record holder Seb Coe. Ovett triumphed over 800m – the event Coe was supposed to win - but six days later Coe took his revenge in the 1500m and the streak was over. Ovett had to settle for bronze.

Maria Mutola

The ‘Maputo Express’ did Mozambique proud with a 36-race winning streak over 800m from 2002 to 2004, and few can match her when it comes to longevity. Mutola burst onto the scene aged 18, with a world junior record to finish fourth at the Tokyo 1991 World Championships. She then won seven world indoor titles in a 13-year period that took her from Toronto in 1993 to Moscow in 2006.

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Sergey Bubka

Ukraine’s PV legend was unbeaten in major competition for seven years before placing sixth at the 1990 European Championships. In February 1993 he soared to 6.15m indoor, and 6.14m outdoor the following year. Both world records still stand, and no other vaulter has come within 0.08 of either.

He also registered a remarkable streak of six successive world pole vault titles from 1983 to 1997.