Ten of the best: Weltklasse Zurich


The Weltklasse – which translates into English as ‘world class’ – has been the pinnacle of the one-day athletics circuit for more than 80 years. SPIKES pays homage to the rip-roaring Zurich meeting by picking out some amazing nights of world record-breaking action.

1959 – First world records

The first two of 25 world records in Weltklasse history were set in 1959 by Martin Lauer. The European 110m hurdles champion, from Cologne, set a world record 13.2 for the distance before returning two hours later and setting a world best 22.5 for the 200m hurdles.

Lauer retired shortly after finishing fourth in the 110m hurdles at the 1960 Rome Olympics, and became a successful country-style singer. He sold more than nine million records.

1960 – Fastest man alive

Another German sparkled at the Weltklasse a year later, as Armin Hary became the first sprinter in history to run 100m in 10.0. He achieved the feat in the first race before it was annulled for an alleged false-start.

He then returned for a second crack and this time legally attained the time. Later that year he went on to be crowned men’s Olympic 100m champion in Rome: the first non-American winner of the event for 32 years.

1981 – Renaldo and Coe

On a rocking night inside the Letzigrund Stadium, Renaldo “Skeets” Nehemiah of the US became the first man to run sub-13.00 for the 110m hurdles, posting 12.93 to wipe 0.07 from his own world record mark.

Meanwhile, Seb Coe of Great Britain trimmed 0.27 from his great rival Steve Ovett’s world mile record in 3:48.53: the third of four outdoor world records he set that summer. British interest was so great that the BBC even interrupted their news broadcast to bring live coverage of Coe’s world record exploits.

1988 – Butch’s big night

For nearly 20 years the world 400m record had stood at 43.86: set by Lee Evans in the altitude-thin air of Mexico City at the 1968 Olympic Games. But in Zurich, Harry ‘Butch’ Reynolds, sliced a massive 0.57 from that mark to win in 43.29.

On a typically captivating night at the Letzigrund, the home straight strip proved its scintillating speed once again. Carl Lewis beat his arch 100m rival Ben Johnson of Canada in 9.93, a mark later upgraded to a world record.

1989 – Roger’s Kingdom

A former high jumper and discus thrower, it was the 110m hurdles where US athlete Roger Kingdom eventually settled. After winning back-to-back Olympic titles in 1984 and 1988 he lowered the world record – set eight years earlier at the Weltklasse by Nehemiah, remember – by 0.01. 

1995 – Holy Moses

On a curious night for Moses Kiptanui he both set and lost a world record mark at the Weltklasse. The Kenyan endurance star become the first man to ever run a sub-eight minute 3000m steeplechase with a stunning 7:59.18, wiping almost three seconds from the mark he set in Zurich three years earlier.

In a bizarre twist, he also lost his world 5000m record to Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie, who obliterated the mark by almost 11 seconds, in 12:44.39.

1997 – Three for the crowd

Arguably the greatest Weltklasse history, as three world records fell in a dizzying night of athletics. Haile Gebrselassie chipped 2.53 from his 5000m world mark of two years earlier. Kenya’s Wilson Boit Kipketer then trimmed 0.10 from Kiptanui’s world steeplechase record, also set two years earlier.

The biggest noise was created for Kenyan-born Dane Wilson Kipketer (not related), whose time of 1:41.24 finally erased Seb Coe’s 16-year-old world record.

2001 – Bucher on a roll

In the rich history of the Weltklasse, Swiss success has been thin on the ground but 12 years ago Andre Bucher owned the Letzigrund. Coming into the meet off the back of 2001 world 800m gold, he shattered the Swiss record for the distance by winning in 1:42.55 to climb to tenth all-time. Rarely has the sound inside the historic venue been louder.

2009 – The 25th world record

Very seldom is Usain Bolt upstaged, but in the 2009 edition Russian pole vaulting superstar Yelena Isinbayeva added 0.01 on to her world record mark, with a show-stealing 5.06m.

Sensationally, it was Isinbayeva’s 17th outdoor world pole vault record, a mark which still exists today and the most recent of the 25 world records set at the Weltklasse.

2012 – Bolt, Blake and Aman

There were no world records in the most recent edition but there were stadium records set by a Jamaican sprint duo in the 100m and 200m: Yohan Blake in 9.76 and Usain Bolt in 19.66.

On an absorbing night of athletics the Olympic 800m champion David Rudisha, who had set a stunning world record at London 2012, was beaten by the teenage (and now-world champion) Mohammed Aman of Ethiopia.