On Saturday (3rd Sept) the ISTAF Berlin celebrates its 75th edition (ok we’re going). Here are six reasons why it's one of the world's greatest one-day meets.

1. Way back when 

Golden League Berlin ISTAF ()

ISTAF is short for Internationales Stadionfest. Let’s stick with ISTAF.

First organised in the Deutsches Stadion in 1921 by the local sports clubs Berliner SC, SC Charlottenburg and Poseidon Swimming Club, the inaugural meeting attracted over 20,000 spectators – it even included swimming events in the adjoining swimming pool. But the idea didn’t quite take off.

In 1937, a year after it staged Jesse Owens’ remarkable quadruple gold medal haul at the 1936 Olympics, Berlin’s Olympic Stadium became the new home of the ISTAF and has hosted the annual athletics frenzy ever since.

From 1998 until 2009 it was part of the IAAF Golden Series, which in 2010 was replaced by the IAAF Diamond League. Since then the ISTAF has formed part of the IAAF World Challenge Series.

2. Mr ISTAF will see you now

Michael Johnson and Rudi Thiel ahead of the 2000 ISTAF in Berlin ()

The meet director between 1968 and 2000 was Rudi Thiel, a former middle distance runner and an institution in German athletics. “Mister ISTAF” brought the likes of Hicham El Guerrouj, Michael Johnson and Edwin Moses to the German capital, and made the ISTAF the popular meet it is today.

“Some of the most memorable ISTAF moments for me were when we had 60,000 spectators watch Carl Lewis successfully showcase his full range following the 1983 World Championships in Helsinki,” Thiel recalled in an interview in 1992.

“In 1989 Arturo Barrios’ 10,000m world record and of course Said Aouita’s 1500m world record – those were some of our finest hours as organisers and the stadium as such.”

3. No record is safe

David Rudisha sets a world record at the 2010 ISTAF in Berlin ()

The ISTAF hasn’t been short of world record-breaking performances – 16 bests have been set in the stadium since 1937.

In 1977 Rosemarie Ackermann, much to the delight of the German crowd, became the first woman to clear 2.00m in the high jump – and the last to do so using the straddle technique. 

“I automatically burst into tears of joy,” recalls Ackermann. “I just wanted to hide and have a minute to myself, but of course that was impossible, I was the centre of attention.

“Moments like that stick with you and even after so many years it still feels like it was only yesterday that it happened.”

One of the longest-standing records set in Berlin was Said Aouita’s 1500m world record of 3:29.46 from the 1985 edition. His time stood unchallenged for seven years before Noureddine Morceli bettered it in 1992. 

In 2010, on the now famous blue track that saw Usain Bolt set 100m and 200m world records at the 2009 World Championships, a 21-year-old David Rudisha broke Wilson Kipketer’s 800m world record with a 1:41.09 clocking. The Kenyan has improved the world records twice since and won two Olympic titles. Did we mention he’s lining up on Saturday?

4. Throws, throws and more throws

Being a German meeting, one of the main attractions has always been the throwing events, and it’s not just local athletes who enjoy the surroundings.

Anita Wlodarczyk set a then hammer throw world record of 79.58m in 2014, the same year discus giant Virgilius Alekna celebrated his farewell from the circle.

“Berlin was the right place to close up my long career because it is the place where I started so many times and it is a nice venue,” an emotional Alekna said at the time.

This year, world, Olympic and five-time ISTAF champion Robert Harting will face competition from his own family in the form of newly crowned Olympic champion brother Christoph. Local hero Robert has already been putting in the ground work to ensure the discus will take centre stage come Saturday (see above).

This year won’t just see the throws circle in action. Organisers swiftly added a men’s javelin competition to the already stellar women’s field after German Thomas Rohler won Olympic gold in Rio. Double Speerwurf!

5. Public displays of athleticism

Pole Vault at Potsdamer Platz for the 2004 ISTAF in Berlin ()

Like most meets, the ISTAF has had its share of financial straits. However, the organisers have never been short of promotional ideas to lure spectators to the stadium.

In 2004, three days before the meet, they staged an exhibition pole vault competition at the Potsdamer Platz, a public square in cenrtal Berlin. It was one of the first instances of athletics moving out of the stadium and onto the streets (a trend that has caught on).

Since then street action has become integral to athletics events in Berlin, with Berlin Fliegt! taking the pole vault and long jump to the streets annually. This year it takes place the Friday after the event (11th September) and features a newly developed sprint challenge to promote the 2018 European Championships.

In 2014 the ISTAF became a fixture on the indoor circuit as well. featuring a rather rare – you guessed it – indoor discus competition

6. Ich bin ein Berlino

Berlino the bear was born in 2007, just in time to promote the 2009 Berlin World Championships. Nearly ten years on and the famous mascot is still going strong. His hobbies include “laughing, eating, cuddling and sleeping”, and most importantly running around Berlin’s Olympic Stadium.

“Part of my job includes celebrating with the athletes after their victories. But sometimes I also have to comfort them,” says Berlino (through a translator). “That’s the hardest part, and sometimes makes me cry.”

The clumsy bear says he loves all athletics events “apart from the pole vault maybe – I’m scared of heights” (good job another mascot has that covered).