Men's 100-Meter World Records

Usain Bolt gains the 2009 World Championship 100-meter gold medal, as well as the world record, by finishing in 9.58 seconds.
Usain Bolt gains the 2009 World Championship 100-meter gold medal, as well as the world record, by finishing in 9.58 seconds. Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The 100-meter world record-holder, as well as the Olympic 100-meter champion, is often known as “The world’s fastest man.” Although the event is the shortest outdoor race at the senior level, the 100-meter sprint has featured a large number of world record-holders. Indeed, Usain Bolt’s current world standard, set at the 2009 World Championships, was the 67th men’s 100-meter mark officially recognized by the IAAF since its inception in 1912.

Pre-IAAF

American Luther Cary ran the first recorded 10.8-second 100 meters, on July 4, 1891. Cary’s unofficial world record was matched 14 times by 13 different runners during the next dozen years. It wasn’t until 1906 that Sweden’s Knut Lindberg lowered the unofficial mark to 10.6. Three German runners reached 10.5 in 1911 and 1912.

IAAF Recognition

The IAAF recognized its first 100-meter world record-holder in 1912, after American Donald Lippincott ran 10.6 seconds in a preliminary heat during the Stockholm Olympics. Lippincott apparently peaked too early, as he only finished third in the final, in 10.9 seconds. He was joined in the record book by fellow American Jackson Scholz in 1920, who matched Lippincott's 10.6 time.

Americans owned the 100-meter record until 1930, by which time Charlie Paddock and Eddie Tolan had both run 10.4 (with Tolan hitting the mark twice). Then Canada's Percy Williams took charge by running 10.3 in August of 1930.

Five more runners matched the mark (Ralph Metcalfe three times, and Tolan – at the 1932 Olympic final – Eulace Peacock, Christiaan Berger and Tokayoshi Yoshioka once each) before American Jesse Owens ran a 10.2 in a Chicago meet in 1936. Owens' record was equaled 10 times in the next 20 years (Bobby Morrow three times, Ira Murchison twice, and Harold Davis, Lloyd LaBeach, Barney Ewell, McDonald Bailey and Heinze Futterer once apiece) before another American, Willie Williams, was timed in 10.1 seconds in 1956.

Murchison and Leamon King (twice), matched the record before the end of the year. Ray Norton joined the group in the record book by posting a 10.1-second time in 1959.

Breaking 10 Seconds

The world mark reached 10-flat courtesy of West Germany’s Armin Hary in 1960. Nine different runners ran 10-second races during the next eight years, including Bob Hayes’ gold medal performance in the 1964 Olympics, which was electrically timed at 10.06 seconds but recorded at 10.0 for record purposes (the other eight runners were: Harry Jerome, Horacio Esteves, Jim Hines, Enrique Figuerola, Paul Nash, Oliver Ford, Charlie Greene and Roger Bambuck).

The record finally dipped below 10 seconds in a remarkable race on June 20, 1968, in Sacramento. American Jim Hines won the race in a hand-timed 9.9, but the next two runners – Ronnie Ray Smith and Charles Greene – were also credited with times of 9.9 seconds, so all three entered the record book with that time, even though electronic timing recorded Hines in 10.03 seconds, followed by Greene (10.10) and Smith (10.14). Hines then ran the first electronically-time sub-10-second 100 meters at the 1968 Olympic final, which he won in 9.95 seconds. Between 1972 and 1976, six more runners tied the official world mark of 9.9 seconds (Steve Williams four times, Harvey Glance twice, and Eddie Hart, Rey Robinson, Silvio Leonard and Don Quarrie once each).

Electronic Era

Beginning in 1977, the IAAF only recognized electronically-timed races for world record purposes, so Hines’ 9.95 became the sole world mark. Hines' mark survived until American Calvin Smith ran 9.93 in 1983.

Canada's Ben Johnson lowered the record to 9.83 in 1987 and 9.79 at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, but his times were later vacated after he tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Carl Lewis, who'd run second to Johnson in 9.92 in Seoul, not only became the 1988 Olympic gold medalist but also gained the 100-meter world record.

Lewis and fellow American Leroy Burrell traded the record back and forth over the next six years, with Burrell reaching 9.85 in 1994. Canada's Donovan Bailey ran 9.84 in the 1996 Olympic final, and then Maurice Greene lowered the mark to 9.79 in 1999.

Greene was the last American to hold the mark – and keep it – before the Jamaican surge in the 21st century. Americans Tim Montgomery and Justin Gatlin both had world marks rescinded due to doping infractions. From Lippincott’s 1912 record, until 2005, Americans owned or shared the men’s 100-meter world record for all but about nine years and three months, within a 93-year span.

Jamaica Ascends

Jamaica's Asafa Powell ran 9.77 three times in 2005 and 2006, and then he lowered his record to 9.74 in 2007. The following year, a once-promising 200-meter specialist named Usain Bolt branched out to the 100 and broke Powell's mark twice, reaching 9.69 seconds at the Beijing Olympics, marking the fourth time since 1968 that the world record was set at the Olympics. Bolt began celebrating his Olympic triumph on the track, with about 30 meters remaining in the race, leading many to believe that he had a better time within him. They were right. Spurred on by a strong challenge from American Tyson Gay the next year, Bolt won the 2009 World Championship 100 meters in a record time of 9.58 seconds. Bolt didn’t set a world mark at the 2012 Olympics, but he won his second straight 100-meter gold medal in an Olympic-record time of 9.63 seconds.

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Rosenbaum, Mike. "Men's 100-Meter World Records." ThoughtCo, Jun. 10, 2017, thoughtco.com/mens-100-meter-world-records-3259154. Rosenbaum, Mike. (2017, June 10). Men's 100-Meter World Records. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/mens-100-meter-world-records-3259154 Rosenbaum, Mike. "Men's 100-Meter World Records." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/mens-100-meter-world-records-3259154 (accessed November 19, 2017).