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Los Angeles 1984

The most important technological innovations at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles were the pressure ­sensitive false start detect­ors, which were used in athletics and swim­ming (the picture shows a swimmer's starting block), combined with loudspeakers for the starting signal behind each starting block. This ensured that the athletes' performances could be compared objectively in terms of both time and space.

STORY

Carl Lewis - four gold medals in quantitative terms

Finish line cameras had been installed next to each of the handover lines in the 4 x 100 m relay in order to record the time of each runner. The quantitative measurement of statistical values had been introduced to athletics for the first time and produced some interesting information. All eyes in the Coliseum were fixed on Carl Lewis (born 1 July 1961), who had announced his ambition to follow in the footsteps of Jesse Owens, gold medallist in the 100 m, 200 m, long jump and 4 x 100 m relay in 1936. In the US trials held at the same venue on 27 June, he had recorded a time of 10.06 seconds against a 2.2 m/s headwind in the 100 m. Experiments in wind tunnels later showed that a runner with his body shape ran a distance of 100 m 0.1 seconds more slowly against a headwind of 1 m/s. Lewis had left the starting blocks with a permissible reaction time of 0.15 seconds, so without the headwind would have set a new world record of 9.84 seconds, quite apart from the fact that he lost around 0.05 seconds by starting his celebration in the final metres of the race. In the Olympic final, Lewis’ reaction time of 0.177 seconds was less impressive, although there was a light tail wind of 0.2 m/s and it was clear to the naked eye that, while others had already reached their top speed, he could have accelerated even more. A time of 9.99 seconds was sufficient to secure a victory with an incredible lead of 0.20 seconds. “For me, that is 60% of my programme complete. The 100 m is the hardest event because a lot can happen,” he told the media in a written statement. He was right.

In the long jump, his second event, he contented himself with just two attempts because he had already run two 200 m races on the same day. His first jump of 8.54 m put him 30 cm ahead of the rest. He was booed off. “It was only later that I realised that the people just wanted to see more of me,” he said. In the 200 m, Lewis won by “only” 0.16 seconds, although his time of 19.80 seconds was an Olympic record. The first bend was astounding: Lewis ran the first 100 m in 10.23 and, at that stage, was already 0.18 seconds ahead of his club mate Kirk Baptiste. To round things off, Lewis helped his team achieve a world record in the 4 x 100 m relay (37.38), running the final leg in a lightning quick 8.94 seconds. Owens had also set a world record with his fourth Olympic gold medal performance.

Their performances are difficult to compare. While Lewis had to run 13 times in eight days, Owens, who also came from Alabama, had to fend off opponents who were closer to his own standard.

Twelve years after Los Angeles, Carl Lewis won his fourth Olympic long jump competition with a leap of 8.50 m. This time the biomechanists measured his performance. Even aged 35, Lewis was still the quickest over the final 10 metres of his runup, with 40.2 km/h. For Lewis, this final Olympic victory was the most important: “Because I was able to share it with so many people who had supported me for so long.”

Four consecutive victories in the same discipline was an achievement that only the Danish singlehanded yachtsman Poul Elvström (1948 1960) and American discus thrower Al Oerter (1956 1968) had managed before Lewis. Lewis ended his brilliant career with nine Olympic gold medals, eight World Championship titles and 11 world records to his name, making him perhaps the greatest athlete of all time.

For these figures are also records in themselves. In the Olympic Games, only Soviet gymnast Larissa Latynina (1956 1964), Finnish runner Paavo Nurmi (1920 1928) and American swimmer Mark Spitz (1968 1972) have matched his haul of nine gold medals.

TECHNOLOGY

Omega appealed to Samaranch on Michele Chardonnet's behalf

The final medal of the 1984 Olympic Games was not presented until 12 January 1985 in Paris-Bercy. At the World Indoor Athletics Championships, Michèle Chardonnet (born 27 October 1956) received the bronze medal that had been withheld from her after the 100 m hurdles final in Los Angeles.

The Frenchwoman had already been standing on the winners’ podium in the Coliseum when, with tears of disappointment in her eyes, she had been forced to step down because third place had been awarded to American Kim Turner, even though both athletes had recorded the same time. Chardonnet had caught up with Turner in the final metres and the timekeepers saw it as a dead heat. However, the judge disagreed.

The Appeals Panel, whose members included the then IAAF President Primo Nebiolo and the 1964 Olympic 4 x 400 m relay champion Ollan Cassell, had rejected the French protest and interpreted the finishline photo differently to the timekeepers. Nevertheless, the people from OMEGA kept up the pressure. Peter Hürzeler explained to IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch himself how a finish line photo should be analysed. Chardonnet ultimately had Samaranch to thank for the fact that she was awarded a bronze medal. For the two times French champion, who later married coach Jacques Piacenta, this medal was the greatest achievement of her career.


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