The CHill Zone of T&F: Conway's View From the Finish Line

Top Ten 400 Meter Races of All Time – Women

Nov 14th, 2012
11:12 am PDT

Sanya R-RThis one was a bit harder than the others. In large part because the all time list is heavily populated by Eastern Bloc athletes. At the end of the day however, the results sorted themselves out because many of the too times occurred in races that were outside of major championships with results that were very top heavy with really poor results at the bottom.

So at the end of the day, and after much review of results and videos, this list ends up with no races from Marita Koch – including her spectacular 47.60. In the majority of Koch’s races she was the star, but the supporting casts were lacking. This was the car in many of the Eastern Bloc’s faster races – which allowed them you stand on their own vs trying to account for "drug use" which I’m sure it’s on most people’s minds with respect you several performances on the still time list. Similarly performances from events where drug testing was conducted have been allowed to stand on their own as with my previous all time races lists – suspicions notwithstanding.

I put that out there because controversy could be lurking with the very first race on this list. Especially since I had great difficulty finally deciding on a #, with the first three races on this list all in the running for various reasons. That said, here is my accounting of the tho races ever in the women’s 400.

1. 1976 Olympics – As good as the next two races were, this race finally became my number one. A WR at the time; a major move forward by Szewinska for the event; serious movement on the all time list at the time; a decisive defeat of the previous WR holder; a closely fought battle behind the winner; and depth. This race had everything necessary to be #1. While many marvel at Marita Koch’s WR, it was Szewinska that truly brought the event into the modern era.

49.28 – Irina Szewinska
50.51 – Christine Brehmer
50.55 – Ellen Streidt
50.56 – Pirjo Haggman
50.65 – Rosalyn Bryant
50.90 – Sheila Ingram
50.98 – Ritta Salin
51.66 – Debra Sapenter

2. 1983 World Championships – After much much much review this WR race gets the #2 spot. The first sub 48; a WR; a mid 48, and a third individual near 49 flat – it’s never been better than that. Throw in the fact that last place was 50.66 in a race that occurred in the early 80′s when running 50 point was still outstanding, and this race has everything – and it was run nearly three decades ago! Some will complain because Kratochvilova had a physique that literally looked like the Eastern Bloc, but the race was run at World’s and testing gave her a clean bill of health. So the race stands.

47.99 – Jarmila Kratochvilova
48.59 – Tatiana Kocembova
49.19 – Maria Pinigina
49.75 – Gaby Bussman
50.06 – Marita Payne
50.48 – Irina Baskakova
50.48 – Dagmar Rubsam
50.66 – Rosalyn Bryant

3. 1996 Olympics – This race was nearly in the top spot. with a pair of 48′s and six women under 50, but at the end of the day two historical races with solid results won out. That said, this may be the best number three race of any on my lists yet. Perhaps the best one, as two studs race under 49 seconds with Perec and Freeman giving the fans in Atlanta a good show with a serious stretch run.

48.25 – Marie Jose Perec
48.63 -Cathy Freeman
49.10 – Falilat Ogunkoya
49.28 – Pauline Davis
49.55 – Jearl Miles
49.77 – Fatima Yusuf
50.45 – Sandy Richards
50.71 – Grit Breuer

4. 1984 Olympics – Another outstanding race, and one that was the culmination of a season long battle for the American Record. Sprinters Brisco and Cheeseborough both moved up in distance and took on the 400, lowering the AR three times prior to the Games with Cheeseborough coming into Los Angeles with 49.28 to her credit. Brisco ran like a woman possessed however with “Cheese” in tow finally taking the record into the 48’s where it’s only been lowered by .13 in the near thrity years since – such was the quality of this race. The depth behind this pair was solid in spite of the lack of any Eastern Bloc athletes, earning the race a spot on the list – nearly higher. And if you can’t tell it’s one of my personal all time favorites.

48.83 – Valerie Brisco
49.05 – Chandra Cheeseborough
49.42 – Kathy Cook
49.91 – Marita Payne
50.25 – Lillie Leatherwood
50.37 – Ute Thimm
50.45 – Charmaine Crooks
51.56 – Ruth Waithera

5. 1968 Olympics – The first race at any distance with hand timing that’s made any of my lists. But if you go to YouTube and take a look, the race was every bit as good as those hand times indicate. The race was close, there was much exchange in position during the race. And the stretch run was a classic. This is one of those “black and white” classic movie type races. Every bit as good as the men’s 100, 200, or 400. Frankly the more I review the events from Mexico City, it may have been the best Olympic Games of all time. But that’s for another discussion.

52.0 – Collette Besson
52.1 – Lillian Board
52.2 – Natalya Pechenkina
52.5 – Janet Simpson
52.7 – Arelia Penton
52.7 – Jarvis Scott
52.8 – Helga Henning
53.0 – Hermina Van Der Hoven

6. 2007 World Championships – This is easily the best race for the medals in the history of the event at any type of championship. Throw in the fact that Ohuruogu put on one of her better come from behind performances with Sanders doing the same, and you have a very exciting, very close finish, worthy of a spot in the top ten.

49.61 – Christine Ohuruogu
49.65 – Nicola Sanders
49.66 – Novlene Williams
50.16 – Ana Guevara
50.17 – DeeDee Trotte
50.33 – Natalya Antyukh
50.54 – Illona Usovich
50.96 – Mary Wineberg

7. 1992 Olympics – Actually a tough call between this race and #8 as both had solid depth. Parec with another sub49 however in a tough race with Bryzgina for the gold brought this race into the 7th position. When really taking a look at the all time lists AND the various races run over the years, Perec and Bryzgina are truly two of the best female quartermilers to grace the event, and this was one of their better battles.

48.83 – Marie Jose Perec
49.05 – Olga Bryzgina
49.64 – Ximena Restrepo
49.69 – Olga Nazarova
49.93 – Jillian Richardson
50.11 – Rochelle Stevens
50.19 – Sandie Richards
50.87 – Phyllis Smith

8. 2000 Olympics – This race makes the list as one of the most complete races ever. TNot the most spectacular of winning times, but great depth. Freemen was a beast at “home” with the rest of the field running well. At the end of the day it was the low 50 points that earned this race it’s spot.

49.11 – Cathy Freeman
49.58 – Lorraine Graham
49.72 – Katherine Merry
49.79 – Donna Fraser
49.96 – Ana Guevara
50.05 – Heide Seyerling
50.12 – Falilat Ogunkoya
51.04 – Olga Kotlyarova

9. 2004 Olympics – A tough race between Darling Williams and Guevara for gold, combined with solid depth earned this race a spot on the list. Many will remember it for Richards falling out of the medals, but this race was very strong in the finishing stretch and featured a very strong field for the time period.

49.41 – Tonique Darling Williams
49.56 – Ana Guevara
49.89 – Natalya Antyukh
49.97 – Monique Hennagan
50.00 – DeeDee Trotter
50.19 – Sanya Richards
50.37 – Christine Amertil
50.65 – Natalya Nazarova

10. 2009 World Championships – Just short of sub49, this race makes the list based on the race for bronze and the depth and closeness of the overall race.

49.00 – Sanya Richards
49.32 – Sherika Williams
49.71 – Antonina Krivoshapka
49.77 – Novlene Williams Mills
50.21 – Christine Ohuruogu
50.35 – Debbie Dunn
50.53 – Anastasia Kapachinskaya
50.65 – Amantle Montsho

There you have it. As I said at the start, there were several WR races and very fast times that did not make the list – a surprise to many I’m sure. But at the end of the day the list is about overall races, not great individual performances – which made this list extremely difficult to put together. Hopefully the 800’s will be a bit easier. At least I have a pretty good idea already of what the top races on each list will be!

10 Responses to “Top Ten 400 Meter Races of All Time – Women”

  1. Waynebo says:

    Another great list. My fave was the ’96 Olympics. I personally consider Jose-Perec’s 48.25 to be the legit WR. No one has really challenged it in 16 years. I don’t think any one has bettered Freeman’s 48.63 since then either. I would Love to see Allyson & SRR push each other to that next level. I wish the 400 got some of the “glamour” attention so our fastest athletes would run it… hey, I can dream :-)

    • CHill says:

      I agree with the 96 race as the “non” assisted WR … Though I have to say that every time I watch that 47.60 it was a work of art ..

      I also agree that if we got some speed back into the event that we could see those lower times getting challenged again .. Think about it, Szewinska was 49 low way back in the 70s … For the most part, aside from that 80s era, there has been almost no improvement ..

      • Anderson says:

        I agree with the no improvement. After the late 80′s, if anything there has been a decline in the event with flashed like Perec Freeman and SRR

        • CHill says:

          At this point 48s should be common place .. And there is no reason why a major should be won at anything other than sub 49 unless there is a huge wind ..

          Too many athletes that were not part of the Eastern Bloc have shown what is possible … We have too many women that should really be in the 800 running this event IMHO …

          • Anderson says:

            That’s debateable to say that there are currently 800 runners who should be in the 400. The current crop of 800 runners are top noch in that event right now. If they were running terrible, then maybe we could consider if they should be making a switch.

            I think the womens 400 is similar to the womens 200 and to an extent mens 400. The late 80′s and early 90′s were the peak for these 3 events with athletes churning out the times we see on the top lists today. Now the events are in a sort of down period. The womens 400 just seems to be in the worst down period of thoes 3 events.

          • CHill says:

            You misunderstood .. I’m saying a lot of the 400 runners are more suited to the half and should move up … I’m not sure any of our 800 runners could droop a decent quarter … Not like Ana Quirot or Jearl Miles back in the day …

  2. Skydance7 says:

    Yes! This discussion is leading right into a personal fantasy I’d like to see become a reality:

    In 2014 (the off-year), a major sports equipment retailer sponsors a national exhibition tour highlighting Felix and Richards-Ross in a series of 200/400 match races. Spotlight our best track venues throughout the tour, ensuring a live gate and network TV coverage. Make the prize money ir-refusable, with bonuses based on time.

    A one-hour (maximum) TV special 6 to 8 times during the summer would be attractive to casual sports fans and the exposure would be great for our sport.

    Two conditions: We’d need a fabulous TV broadcast team, and Ross would have to postpone any rumored plans (in 2014) for childbirth.

    Felix and Ross are the universal faces of those two distances and don’t seem to be afraid of competing together.

    Make it happen.

    • CHill says:

      Something like that could be a serious marketing boon for the sport if done right … I would really like to see “events” like that … Add the men too .. I would love to see some men try that double … Gay, Bolt, Spearmon, Merritt … I think it has merit ..

    • Anderson says:

      On an international level, it sounds very similar to what the Diamond Leauge said it would be. Big head to heads between the best athletes at the biggest venues. Bonuses for times(meet records) etc.

      • CHill says:

        Exactly, it sounds much like what was promised but not delivered by the Diamond League ..For whatever reason this sport keeps missing that what sells in sport – any sport – are great match ups … Not focusing on great athletes, but the competition between great athletes !!!

        Skydance’ s idea would put the focus on the competition between great athletes, while putting as focus on a couple of neglected events … I like that …

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