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A world history of the one-lap race 1850 - 2004 by Robertto L. Quercetani

"The killer sprint" 400 m and 4x400 m relay, Men and Women - 1850-2004


Cover - Lon Myers (1881) with Marita Koch and Michael Johnson
© SEP Editrice Srl

A world history of the one-lap race 1850 - 2004  by Robertto L. Quercetani A world history of the one-lap race 1850 - 2004  by Robertto L. Quercetani A world history of the one-lap race 1850 - 2004  by Robertto L. Quercetani A world history of the one-lap race 1850 - 2004  by Robertto L. Quercetani

Roberto L. Quercetani, the Italian sport historian, athletics journalist, and statistician, has been one of the most recognised authors of numerous track and field reference books for decades. In the 290 pages of his latest work, “A World History of THE ONE-LAP RACE 1850 – 2004 – with the subtitle, “The Killer Sprint,” he deals only with the men’s and women’s 400m and the 4 x 400m relay. 
The book was released in March 2005. It concludes with the statistics of the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004.
The book covers the entire spectrum from Leonidas, the most famous athlete of Antiquity, to Lon Myers (USA), the greatest runner of the 19th century, to Jeremy Wariner (USA), the 400m gold medallist at the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004. 

It also goes way back through the early history of women’s athletics, mentioning “Hera“ – the games for women in classic Greece, and starts the modern age with Hilja Heinonen (FIN) in a time 1:47 4/5 on July 25, 1900, moving up to Marita Koch’s (GDR) legendary world record of 47.60 on October 6, 1985 in Canberra.  This achievement is marked with a respective comment, however.

Quercetani calls the 400m the “most American“ of all of the running disciplines, as the US boys have won 41 of 77 medals at the Olympic Games, which makes 53.2%. Just as spectacular is the record for the Americans at the World Championships, where they have won 14 of 27 medals (51.8%), not including Helsinki.

Supported by the IAAF, the book was published in March 2005. Lamine Diack, the president of the IAAF, wrote a foreword.

Lon Myers is on the cover of the book at his first 440-yard race in Stamford Bridge, London, in 1881 with a time of 49 4/5 – with images of Marita Koch and Michael Johnson blended over as the 400m heroes of the modern age.
173 pages of the book are filled with text and numerous impressive photos, while 116 pages are reserved for detailed statistics.
While we have only reported and commented on the disciplines 800m upwards on our website, this standard reference work by Quercetani is a great book for every fan of athletics.

One can formulate this a different way: No 800m ace can survive without a corresponding top 400m performance. Just think of Rudolf Harbig and Alberto Juantorena. The book on the “killer sprint” just might be an interesting source for long distance athletes, too.

The achievements made by the German quarter-milers should not be forgotten,
who are mentioned in the statisitics segment of the book.
There were even years when German runners and relays led the charts: In 1939, the world best performance in the 400m was made by Rudolf Harbig  with his world record time of  46.0, while the 4 x 400m German relay also was the fastest in 1939 in a time of 3:10.4. The last German to top the charts was Erwin Skamrahl (GER) in 1983 with a time of
44.50, and the last relay was the East German team in 2:59.69. in 1985.

The East German women were at the top with Helga Seidler in 1978, and the  Federal Republic relay was ahead in the rankings in 1998.

With a feeling of nostalgia we look back at the German successes of the
Past ... knowing that those days will never return.

Horst Milde

Roberto L. Quercetani of Florence, Italy, has been for over half a century one of the best known athletics journalists and historians at the international level. In 1950 in Brussels he was one of the founders of the ATFS (Association of Track and Field Statisticians), which still represents the most authoritative reference source for all those who want to find their way through the jungle of facts and figures which are part and parcel of the sport. President of the ATFS from 1950 to 1968 and still a member of the Executive Committee, RLQ - as he is known to track lovers the world over - authored or co-authored many statistical works on leading World and European perfor-mers and performances.

"A World History of Track and Field Athletics, 1864-1964"

As a writer he was the author in English of a book which first appeared in 1964 under the title "A World History of Track and Field Athletics, 1864-1964", published by Oxford University Press, London. This book later appeared in Finnish, Italian, Japanese and Spanish editions. The latest English version appeared in 2000, published by SEP Editrice of Cernusco s/ Naviglio (Milan). He also authored or co-authored books on the history of particular departments of the sport, such as 1500 metres/1 mile, 800 metres and 5000/10,000 metres. As a free-lance journalist RLQ covered most of the major meets - Olympic Games, World Championships, European Championships, World and European Cups, Commonwealth Games, US Olympic Trials, and many others held throughout the world during the second half of the 20th century. Over the same period of time he was a steady contributor to the Milan daily "La Gazzetta dello Sport" and European Editor of the US magazine "Track & Field News".

Most recently he contributed to Enciclopedia Italiana (Treccani)on athletics and the history of the Olympic Games.

The most universally known and practised of all sports

Track and Field Athletics is the most universally known and practised of all sports. Its modern forms emerged for the most part around 1860 in Great Britain and USA. Its coming of age was accelerated with the revival of the Olympic Games (Athens 1896) and the foundation of the IAAF (International Amateur Athletic Federation) in Berlin, 1913. The latter is the governing body of the sport with over 200 affiliated countries, still with the same letterhead which now stands for International Association of Athletics Federations. The 400 metres, known nowadays as the "one-lap race", is one of the most thrilling tests in the sport. It is sometimes referred to as "the killer event". Being just beyond the limit through which a well-trained runner can maintain his maximum speed, it requires excruciating labour, especially in the closing stage. Well over a century ago, a famous observer of track deeds wrote that in the quarter-mile (the English "ancestor" of the 400 metres) ath-letes "run themselves blind before reaching the tape".

Four 100-metre fractions in 10.795 each

Once classified among middle distance events, it is now regarded as a "prolonged sprint". This book chronicles and comments the evolution of the event from Lon Myers, the 19th century marvel, to Michael Johnson, holder of the current world record (43.18 in 1999), which is the equivalent of four 100-metre fractions in 10.795 each. Attention is also devoted to the parallel evolution of the 4x400 metre relay. Women's one-lap races have a relatively short history, which is also related in detail. As in most of RLQ's works, throughout the book one finds interesting asides devoted to sundry episodes emanating from the myriad of aspects of this fascinating event.


Chapter I: 1850-1900 (with a prologue on Antiquity)- From Leonidas, the most famous athlete of Antiquity, to Lon Myers, the greatest of 19th century runners.
Chapter II: 1901-1920 - Furious battles in St.Louis and London - Meredith: a bright star in the middle of World War I.
Chapter TR: 1921-1940 - Liddell's inspired running - The Carr vs. Eastman classic - The America vs. Europe feud up to Harbig's 46 flat.
Chapter IV: 1941-1960 - Jamaican symphony. Then USA is back on top.
Chapter V: 1961-1980 - Mexico City summit: a record for the ages.
Chapter VI: 1981-2000 - Michael Johnson, one-lap runner nonpareil: global titles galore and a supreme world record.
Chapter VII: 2001-2004 - MJ's successors desert sub-44 territory. Wariner is the best.

Chapter VIII: 1900-1940 - Learning to survive after "one long, breathless thrill"
Chapter IX: 1941-1970 - Maria Itkina, Betty Cuthbert and the mysterious Sin Kim Dan.
Chapter X: 1971-2000 - Szewinska breaks the 50 secs. bar-rier.   Koch, a record for the ages.
Chapter XI: 2001-2004 - Putting back the clock of history?

World Year Lists and All Time World Lists for both men and women  at the end of any given period.


€ 36.00
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