05 September, 2019

Banks, Devers and Coe enter AG Memorial Van Damme Hall of Fame

On Thursday night Willie Banks, Gail Devers and Sebastian Coe were officially inducted into the AG Memorial Van Damme Hall of Fame.

They will also be honoured during the event on Friday, with some of their most magical Memorial moments shown on the big screen for the fans.  

The AG Memorial Van Damme Hall of Fame was introduced in 2017, with Banks, Devers and Coe joining Heike Drechsler, Steve Cram, Merlene Ottey, Hicham El Guerrouj, Kim Gevaert, Tia Hellebaut and Wilfried Meert. 

Hall of Fame – Willie Banks

Willie Banks took part in the AG Memorial Van Damme five times. After three runner-up places the flamboyant and popular triple jumper finally won in 1985 with a phenomenal 17m58.

That jump would be the fourth best jump in his career and was the meet record for ten years until Jonathan Edwards went two centimetres further in 1995. Edwards also took the world record from Banks in Salamanca. For ten years Banks led the world with a jump of 17m97, recorded at the American championships in Indianapolis. 

Despite his status of record holder Banks never won an Olympic gold medal. At both the 1984 games in Los Angeles and the 1988 Seoul he had to settle for sixth place. In 1980 he missed the Moscow games due to the American boycot.  

Wilfried Meert on Willie Banks:

“Willie Banks was very loved among the spectators. I vividly remember the banner a couple of fans brought to the stadium in 1985, which said ‘We love Willie’. The tv cameras happily picked it up. Banks could play the crowd like no one else. He’s the ‘inventor’ of the rhythmic clapping before and during the run-up. These days every athlete is asking for the support of the team, he started doing that in the 80’s at the Stockholm meeting. When he also started doing that in Brussels, he stole the hearts of the crowd right away." 

Hall of Fame – Gail Devers

Gail Devers was a specialist of the regular 100 metres and the hurdles, not a straightforward combination. Between 1992 and 2002 the American took part five times in the AG Memorial Van Damme, resulting in four wins: in 1992, 2000 and 2002 on the hurdles and in 1996 on the sprint.

Devers didn’t have an easy path to a professional sports career. After heavy migraines and eye problems she was diagnosed with Graves disease in 1990, an auto immune disease. Her treatment caused severe foot problems, leading her doctors to consider amputation. Fortunately that didn’t happen and Devers made a full, miraculous recovery. She built up a phenomenal career, culminating in Olympic gold medals on the 100 metres at the 1992 games in Barcelona and the 1996 games in Atlanta. With the American team she also took a gold on the 4x100 relay in 1996.

Wilfried Meert on Gail Devers:

“The general public will know Devers as the athlete with the long and colourful nails, but we particularly remember her for her phenomenal performances on track. She's a three-time Olympic champion, five-time world champion and four times world indoor champion: a great woman. Her races at the memorial were always good. In 2002, at the age of almost 36, she won the 100 metres hurdles in 12:49. World class!" 

Hall of Fame – Sebastian Coe

The connection between Sebastien Coe and the AG Memorial Van Damme is very strong. The current IAAF president first took part in the inaugural 1977 edition as a 21-year-old and would set a world record four years later.

16 August 1977. The 800 metres in Brussels is the first race of the young British talent Sebastian Coe on foreign soil. Kenyan Mike Boit wins the race, Coe is an impressive third. One year later and one year stronger, Coe wins the race in a new British record. 

In 1981, one year after becoming the Olympic 1500 metres champion in Moscow, Coe returns to Brussels with one goal. Beating the world record on the mile, which Steve Ovett had taken away from him two days earlier.  And he did it in style. Coe took over a second out of the time of his main rival. That 3:47.33 was the first world record in the history books of the Memorial. 

Wilfried Meert on Sebastian Coe:

“In 1977 nobody in Belgium had heard of Sebastian Coe. We only added him to the field a day before the meeting at the request of his manager and his father Peter, who was his coach. We certainly didn’t regret it. The affection between the Memorial and Sebastian Coe was and still is mutual. After his career he came to watch the memorial many times, since 2015 he has done so in his capacity as IAAF president."