You just missed it…

World Records broken moments too late

Tonja Buford-Bailey and Sandra Farmer-Patrick have various things in common.

  • They are both American women.
  • They both have double-barrelled surnames.
  • They both love the musical stylings of Barry Manilow (because, who doesn’t?).

Oh, at one point in their careers they both managed to break the world record for the 400m Hurdles a fraction of a second too late.

At the 1993 World Athletics Championships in Stuttgart Sandra Farmer-Patrick lined up alongside her long time rival – Britain’s Sally Gunnel. At the Barcelona Olympics the year before Gunnell had stolen Gold (not literally, she won it fair and square) and Farmer-Patrick was keen to reverse their fortunes…

As the girls crossed the line just under 53 seconds later they had both put in their all. In fact, they’d put in their all, and topped it up with everybody else’s all, as they ran the first and second fastest times ever recorded (at the time) for the race.

That, of course, meant one heartbreaking thing for the girl in second place: she’d run faster than anyone had ever run before that day, done everything she possibly could, but been beaten by someone who did all that and more.

You’d think this was a rare occurrence. And you’d certainly assume that the EXACT SAME THING wouldn’t happen the next time the race was run.


Not the next time any 400m Hurdle race was run of course, but the next time a World Championship women’s 400m Hurdle final was run.

That race was in Gothenburg, Sweden two years later.


This time the battle was between Kim Batten vs Tonja Buford (pre-marriage to NFL wide receiver Victor Bailey) two American athletes who had in fact featured in the final of 1993.

Again they crossed the line comfortably under 53 seconds.
Again they ran the two fastest 400m Hurdles races of all time.
Again one of the them would give everything, but fall short.


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Lausanne, 11th July 2006. Chinese wunderkid Liu Xiang runs the first ever 110m hurdles in under 12.90 seconds clocking 12.88 to steal the world record away from Britain’s Colin Jackson. Behind him is Dominique Arnold, the American athlete who ran 12.90 that day.

Oslo, 15th June 2007. Ethiopia’s Meseret Defar improves her own 5000m world record to 14m 16.63s while Kenya’s Vivian Cheruiyot canters in five seconds later, a whole two seconds under Defar’s old world record.

Gothenburg, August 10th 1995. The day before Kim Batten would win the 400m Hurdles in a world record time the triple jump served up an electrifying competition in which all three medallists cleared 15m. Anna Biryukova, the world record holder before the competition, jumped just 1cm short of her best. She finished third. Iva Prandzheva in second would improve that record 9cm, but Inessa Kravets leap of 15.50m (a record that still stands at the time of writing) would topple them both.

Berlin, September 28th 2014. Dennis Kimetto becomes the first man to run a ratified marathon in under 2hrs 03 minutes improving the world record by 26 seconds. 16 seconds behind him Emmanuel Mutai, a fellow Kenyan, runs the second fastest IAAF ratified marathon of all time and finds himself second on the podium too.

This isn’t a new phenomenon however.  The era of hand-timing threw up similar results.

In the 400m at the Pan Am games in March 1955 Louis Jones beat Jim Lea. Both broke the previous WR.

In Dublin in 1958 Merv Lincoln finished second to Herb Elliot in an all-time classic 880 yards. Both broke the previous record held by Derek Ibbotson.

And further back, but still running two laps of the track, Douglas Lowe finished second to Otto Peltzer at the AAA Championships in 1926 both ducking under the previous best mark.


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Some highlights from the ‘nearly did this but didn’t quite do this’ pile that my research threw up.

I know you love the raw scraps…

  • Carl Lewis jumped a wind-assisted 8.91m breaking Bob Beamon’s previous WR during the 1991 World Championship duel with Mike Powell that led to Powell’s humungous leap of 8.95m
  • In the heady period of 2014 where it looked like the men’s high jump record would finally fall Mutaz Essa Barshim jumped 2.42 meters in New York. Nobody other than WR holder Javier Sotomayor had ever jumped higher (though he had done so three times). Yet despite Sotomayor retiring many years earlier Barshim would only finish second that night to Bogdan Bondorenko who also cleared 2.42m with better count-back. Ouch.
  • At the Atlanta Olympics of 1996 Michael Johnson astonished the world with a 200m time many thought would never be beaten. While Johnson took the event to new heights that Bolt and Blake would later hunt down, Namibian legend Frankie Fredericks cruised to an otherwise startling 19.68 to win silver. For 17 years previous the WR had been held by Pietro Mennea at 19.72. Sadly for Fredericks, Michael Johnson had already reduced the WR to 19.66 a month earlier. but still: So close.
  • In 1978 a US 4x200m team broke the world record for the event despite finishing second. The winning team was made up of athletes from four different countries and, as such, could not be ratified by the IAAF. Guyana athlete James Gilkes was one of the athletes to miss out.
  • Carl Lewis (him again) held the 100m WR from September 1989 (though it was officially recognised from 1st Jan 1990) when Ben Johnson’s times were rescinded by the IAAF. He ran his 9.92 best, the new WR, coming second in the 1988 Olympic Final. At the time he had legally equalled Calvin Smith’s 9.93 1983 record twice while the record books were busy faffing about with Johnson’s juiced-up times.