The 100-meter world record-holder, as well as the Olympic 100-meter champion, is often known as “The world’s fastest man.” Usain Bolt’s record, set at the 2009 World Championships, was the 67th men’s 100-meter record officially recognized by the IAAF since 1912.
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 mark to 10.6. Three German runners reached 10.5 in 1911 and 1912.
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.
The U.S. owned the 100-meter record until 1930, by which time Charlie Paddock and Eddie Tolan had both run 10.4. Then Canada's Percy Williams took charge by running 10.3 in August of 1930. Five more runners matched the mark before American Jesse Owens ran a 10.2 in 1936. Owens' record was equaled 10 times in the next 20 years before another American, Willie Williams, was timed in 10.1 seconds in 1956.
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 record finally dipped below 10 seconds in a remarkable race on June 20, 1968, in Sacramento. American Jim Hines won the race in 9.9, but the next two runners – Ronnie Ray Smith and Charles Greene – were also credited with times of 9.9 seconds. Electronic timing, however, 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.
Beginning in 1977, the IAAF only recognized electronically-timed races for world record purposes, so Hines’ 9.95 became the sole world mark. Previously, nine men owned the official world record of 9.9 seconds. 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 world 100-meter 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, 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's Asafa Powell ran 9.77 three times in 2005 and 2006, then he lowered his record to 9.74 in 2007. The following year, a once-promising 200-meter specialist named Usain Bolt branched off into 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 a new Olympic record time of 9.63 seconds.