Keeping love on track: athletics’ golden couples

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As lovers the world over unite to celebrate their bond in the glow of Saint Valentine, SPIKES gets all misty-eyed and counts down ten of track and field’s most successful couples…


10. Worknesh Kidane & Gebre Gebremariam
Medal count: one silver.

These Ethiopian lovebirds kick off our countdown to find the world’s most athletic couple ever. Worknesh won world 10,000m silver in 2003, and the long-distance pair would have been much further up the standings had we counted their extraordinary haul of ten individual medals won at World Cross Country Championships.

9. Ann Packer and Robbie Brightwell
Medal count: one gold and two silver.

Ann Packer went to the Tokyo 1964 Olympics to win the 400m but lost to Australian great Betty Cuthbert. Packer only decided to run the 800m to make up for the disappointment of fiancé Robbie Brightwell finishing fourth in the men’s 400m (he would later add a relay silver medal). Her extraordinary sprint finish to win the two-lap final meant that the happy couple returned to Britain with one gold and two silver medals.

8. Steve Hooker and Ekaterina Kostetskaya
Medal count: two gold.

Australia’s 2008 Olympic and 2009 world pole vault champion first met middle distance runner Ekaterina on the Beijing warm-up track. Formally introduced by Steve’s Russian coach, it wasn’t long before Ekaterina had moved from St. Petersburg, Russia to Perth, Australia. She came within 0.40 of her own major championship medal at Daegu 2011, finishing fifth in the 800m. You can read their SPIKES Mr and Mrs quiz here.

7. Hal Connolly and Olga Fikotova
Medal count: two gold.

We hold these truths to be self-evident: love conquers all, and there is something magical about the Olympic village. At the Melbourne 1956 Games, America’s ballet-shoe wearing hammer gold medallist Hal Connolly and discus champ Olga Fikotova, representing Czechoslovakia, proved both at the height of the Cold War. 40,000 well-wishers attended their wedding ceremony in Prague, although they eventually divorced after nearly two decades of marriage.

6. Heike Henkel and Paul Meier
Medal count: two gold and one bronze

German world and Olympic high jump champion in 1991/92, Heike Henkel was married to swimming world champion Rainer Henkel for 12 years. They divorced in 2001 and Heike married fellow German athlete Paul Meier, a 1993 world decathlon bronze medallist, in 2004.

5. Emil Zapotek and Dana Zatapkova
Medal count: five gold and two silver.

Two of the most talented and revered athletes of their time, the Czech pair were, coincidentally, both born on 19 September1922. They became the golden couple of the 1952 Helsinki Olympics when Emil took an unprecedented distance running triple of 5000m, 10,000m and the marathon, while Dana banked javelin gold. Emil also snared two Olympic medals (gold and silver) at the 1948 London Games, and eight years after her Helsinki gold, Dana took javelin silver at the Rome Olympics.

After Emil’s 5000m medal ceremony in 1952, Dana took his medal for good luck, as she was about to compete in the javelin. When Emil later tried to take a bit of credit for inspiring her, Dana replied: “What? All right, go and inspire some other girl, and see if she throws a javelin fifty metres.”

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Kiss chase: the Zapoteks celebrate Emil’s 1952 Olympic marathon gold, his first ever 26.2-mile race.

4. Flo-Jo and Al Joyner
Medal count: five gold and three silver.

Florence Griffith first met Al Joyner (the brother of multi-event legend Jackie Joyner-Kersee) at the 1980 US Olympic Trials. By the time they married in 1987, Al was an Olympic triple jump champion, and Florence a 200m silver medallist. At Seoul 1988 Flo-Jo won an amazing sprint treble and silver in the 4x400m. She died in 1998 but still holds the women’s 100m and 200m world records. Their daughter Mary appeared on US TV talent show America’s Got Talent last year, and sang at the US Olympic Trials.

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Golden couple: Al Joyner with his late wife Flo-Jo

3. Natalya Lisovskaya and Yuriy Sedykh
Medal count: five gold and three silver.

Natalya putted her shot with such vigour at the 1988 Seoul Olympics that any of her six attempts would have been enough to win. Her medal record also included world gold in 1987 and silver in 1991, and she still holds the world record. Her husband Yuriy Sedykh boasts an even more impressive record. Commonly regarded as the world’s finest ever hammer thrower, he landed two Olympic titles and a world crown. He, too, is still the world record holder in his event. The pair, who represented the Soviet Union for much of their careers, now live in Paris and their daughter, Alexia, landed hammer silver at the 2012 World Junior Championships.

2. Olga Bryzgina and Viktor Bryzgin
Medal count: six gold, three silver and one bronze.

By our reckoning this pair, who competed for the Soviet Union and the Unified Team, are the married athletes with the second-most world and Olympic gold medals between them. Olga was the more successful athlete, winning 400m gold at the 1987 world champs and the 1988 Olympics, the 4x400m (here she is holding off Flo-Jo superbly) at the 1988 and 1992 Olympics, and world gold in 1991. Hubby Viktor won 4x100m bronze, silver and gold medals at the 1983 and 1987 worlds, and 1988 Olympics, respectively.  Their daughter Elyzaveta Bryzgina, 23, sprints for the Ukraine and has added even more medals to the family haul, including a 4x100m Olympic bronze in London.

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Chip off the old starting block: Viktor and Olga’s daughter Elyzaveta at London 2012

1. Tirunesh Dibaba and Sileshi Sihine
Medal count: 7 gold, 5 silver, 3 bronze

Behind every great woman there is a great man, as the saying should go. 27-year-old Tirunesh Dibaba has more gold than Fort Knox. The five-time world and triple Olympic champion over 5000m and 10,000m is married to Sileshi Sihine, himself a six-time global championships long distance medallist (and her part-time translator).

This Valentine’s Day, all hail Ethiopia’s golden couple, who celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary this year. Thanks to the power of the Internet, you can relive their happy day here:

Note: our combined medal count is from the Olympic Games and IAAF World Track and Field Championships only (sorry, no World Indoors, World Cross Country or European medals) and this is far from an exhaustive list. It’s just a bit of Valentines Day fun!