Almost 15 years since Obikwelu's magical night on a Mondo track in Athens

Francis Obikwelu
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Francis Obikwelu at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games

It is still possible that Francis Obikwelu’s 100m European record of 9.86 will not survive to see its 15th anniversary on 22 August but the odds are weighted in favour of the Portuguese sprinter being able to celebrate in six weeks’ time.

Some European records have had greater longevity and some of those are likely to stand the test of time after a European sprinter has run faster than Obikwelu but the 100m has a certain cachet that resonates with the public-at-large more so than most events and so his mark, achieved on a Mondo Super X Performance Track when winning the silver medal at the 2004 Olympic Games, certainly deserves some special attention.

Obikwelu was far from a favourite for a medal despite a solid build up to Athens but observers looking closely saw that he was rounding into form at just the right time in the summer of 2004, a point in particular being when he ran close to his Portuguese record of 10.01 when clocking 10.02 in Lausanne in early July.

Once he arrived in the Greek capital, everything clicked into place. In his quarter-final, Obikwelu flew to a national record of 9.93 and then qualified comfortably for the final when he eased through his semi, finishing second in 9.97.

The Mondo Super X Performance Track at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games
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The Mondo Super X Performance Track at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games

The finish of the men's 100m final on the Mondo Super X Performance Track at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games

On the evening of the 100m final itself, in sweltering hot conditions for spectators but the perfect environment for swift times, the lanky Obikwelu was the third quickest to react to the gun but took his time getting into his running.

He was fourth at the halfway point but over the second 50 metres, Obikwelu's long legs ate up the ground and carried him into new territory for a European sprinter.

The time has been equalled – by the French sprinter Jimmy Vicaut in 2015 and 2016, the former also on a Mondo surface in Paris’ Stade de France – but never bettered.

Obikwelu ran on many manufacturer’s surfaces during his high-profile international career, which extended for almost two decades, but seemed somehow to have an affinity for Mondo tracks.

He famously became the first man since Italian Pietro Mennea in 1978 to do the 100m and 200m sprint double at the European Athletics Championships with his pair of triumphs in Gothenburg back in 2006, clocking what was then a championship record of 9.99 in the shorter sprint despite damp conditions.

He continues to astound athletics fans and defy father time, not least being part of Portugal’s 4x100m team that competed at the Amsterdam 2016 European Athletics Championships at the age of 37.

Nor has he ever hung up his spikes despite being widely quoted a decade ago saying that 2010 was likely to be his last year in the sport.

In March, he won the world indoor masters (over 40) title over 60m in Torun, Poland – coincidently on another Mondo track which will be the surface for the 2012 European Athletics Indoor Championships – and he has been regularly running under 11 seconds this summer.

However, despite his feats and long-standing European record, the amiable Obikwelu came to wider attention recently when it transpired that he was giving sprinting lessons to his compatriot and footballing icon Cristiano Ronaldo.  

His feats during his athletics career regularly featured on the front pages of Portuguese newspapers, as well as in the sports section, but that news garnered even bigger headlines.