The women’s 200m has historically been choc-full of interesting personalities dating back several decades. The rivalries have been compelling. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the East Germans ruled, they were simply unstoppable. (This was long before the annexation with West Germany.) Stars such as former Olympic champions Renate Stecher and Barbel Wockel, and multiple world record holder and former World champion Marita Koch immediately come to mind.
This hemisphere also has its fair share of 200m stars, led by the indomitable American Evelyn Ashford, who disrupted East Germany’s dominance in the sprints. Unfortunately, Ashford suffered a minor injury just before the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and did not return to the high level of performance established in the event, but she remained a powerful force in the shorter sprint. Ashford’s absence in the longer sprint saw the emergence of a bevy of 200m greats, including Jamaican Merlene Ottey and Ashford’s teammate Florence Griffith Joyner, who later earned the handle, FloJo. Years later, Ottey was joined at the top by American archrival Gwen Torrence and Russia’s Irina Privalova, who went on to win a gold medal in the 400m hurdles in the Melbourne 2000 Olympics. That fabulous trio preceded the current super duo of Jamaica’s Veronica Campbell-Brown and her perennial rival, American standard bearer Allyson Felix.
The 200m, an extremely long sprint, is a test of speed, endurance and power. Who is the crème de la crème of top 200m women sprinters?
The eight greatest 200m runners include former two-time Olympic champion, Germany’s Barbel Wockel; former Jamaican sprint queen and Olympic and World medalist Merlene Ottey; two-time Olympic champion and current World champion Veronica Campbell-Brown; world record holder and 1988 Olympic champion Florence Griffith-Joyner; former Olympic champion and a former world record holder Irena Szewinska of Poland; former four-time world record holder Marita Koch of Germany; American three-time World champion Allyson Felix; and the USA’s 1992 Olympic champion Gwen Torrence.
Honorary mention goes to Australia’s Raelene Boyle. She won back-to-back silver medals in the 1968 and 1972 Olympic Games, and has a best time of 22.45secs. She also won double titles at the Commonwealth Games in 1970 and 1974.
The fractious Gwen Torrence is the eighth best ever. As one of the most successful American women sprinters in the last 25 years, she won medals at almost every international competition including the World University Games, Pan American Games, World Championships – indoor and outdoor, and is the 1992 Olympic champion. Torrence won the 1995 Worlds title but was disqualified because of a lane violation. She holds a personal best (PB) of 21.72secs.
The 1976 and 1980 Olympic 200m champion Barbel Wockel is seventh. Despite allegations of drug activities perpetuated by the German Federation, Wockel is best remembered as the first female athlete to defend an Olympic 200m title. The feat was later equaled by Veronica Campbell-Brown (2004 and 2008).
World record holder Florence Griffith Joyner is sixth. FloJo has the two fastest 200m times of all time – 21.34 and 21.56. Yet in spite of her 1988 exploits, I am not convinced that anything she had done before or after 1988 makes a strong case for her being greatest ever. Former two-time world recorder Irena Szewinska of Poland takes the fifth spot. The 1968 Olympic champion won a silver medal in the 1964 Games and a bronze in 1972. She also won two European Championship titles – in 1966 and 1974, and a bronze in 1971. Her PB is a former world record of 22.21secs.
American Allyson Felix is fourth. She is a three-time World Champion and double Olympic silver medalist. Her PB stands at 21.81secs. Trained by the veteran Bobby Kersee, she won a fourth consecutive medal in the event at the just concluded Worlds. At the relatively young age of 26, her star can only rise.
Current Jamaican sprint queen Veronica Campbell-Brown is third on the all-time list. She has won a gold medal in every international competition in which she has participated – except at the Commonwealth Games, where she was famously outmaneuvered by Sherone Simpson in 2006. Campbell-Brown is the current World champion and two-time defending Olympic champion. At her best she is almost inviolate. Her PB of 21.74secs is the fastest of the decade. Germany’s Marita Koch is second on the list. The 1983 World champion and former four-time world record holder broke the world record by an astounding margin in the mid 1970s after running 21.71 – the first woman under 22.00secs.
The Number One
Merlene Ottey is the greatest 200m runner of all time. Ottey was at or near the top for almost 20 years, since winning a bronze medal at the 1979 Pan American Games and bronze again at the 1980 Moscow Olympics. She made six straight Worlds finals in the event, in addition to five straight Olympic finals. At one point in her career, she won 34 consecutive races in the 200m and an incredible 57 straight 100m finals. She is a former two–time World 200m champion, and she has won an unbelievable 35 international medals in her career – more than any other athlete in history. She is the world indoor record holder at 21.87secs, and is a two time World indoor champion. That Ottey has never won an Olympic title needs to be reviewed independently. However, her consistency and longevity speak volumes; they are unparalleled.
With her two best times of 21.64secs and 21.66secs, she would have won every 200m race contested, with the exception of three. Therefore, in the words of rock & roll superstar Tina Turner, she is simply the best.