The 100-meter run is as much a glamour event for women as for men. It’s also the only women’s individual running event that’s been included in every Olympics since women’s Olympic track and field debuted in 1928.
Marie Majzlikova of Czechoslovakia was the first official women’s 100-meter world record-holder. Her time of 13.6 seconds – slower than the modern women’s 100-meter hurdles record – was recognized by the Federation Sportive Feminine Internationale in 1922. The initial mark lasted only 15 days, until Great Britain’s Mary Lines ran 12.8 on Aug. 20, 1922.
Betty Robinson of the United States ran the first known 12-flat 100 meters, in 1928, but her time wasn’t ratified for world record purposes. One month later, Myrtle Cook’s 12.0 time was ratified, giving the Canadian the official world mark. Robinson won the first Olympic women’s 100-meter gold medal shortly thereafter, in 12.2 seconds.
Tollien Schuuman of the Netherlands ran the first sub-12-second 100 meters, finishing in 11.9 in 1932. In 1935, Helen Stephens became the first American to hold the internationally-recognized 100-meter record after posting a time of 11.6 seconds. Several runners later ran unratified 11.5-second times – including Stephens, who won the 1936 Olympic gold medal with a wind-aided 11.5 – but Fanny Blankers-Koen of the Netherlands ran the first recognized 11.5-second 100 meters in 1948.
Approaching 11 Seconds:
The world record dropped to 11.3 in the 1950s, then Americans Wilma Rudolph and Wyomia Tyus both ran 11.2, in 1961 and 1964, respectively. Poland’s Irena Kirszenstein ran the first 11.1-second 100 meters, in 1965, which Tyus equaled shortly thereafter. Tyus then won the 1968 Olympic 100 meters in 11.08 seconds, which was recorded as 11.0 for world record purposes. East Germany’s Renate Stecher breached the 11-second barrier in 1973, recording a time of 10.9 seconds.
Beginning in 1977, the IAAF only recognized times recorded electronically, to the hundredth of a second, for world record purposes. East Germany’s Marlies Gohr ran the first sub-11-second 100 meters recorded under the new standard when she was clocked in 10.88 seconds in 1977. Gohr lowered her mark twice, reaching 10.81 in 1983. American Evelyn Ashford recorded a time of 10.79 seconds later that year. She improved her mark to 10.76 in 1984.
Florence Griffith-Joyner is unquestionably the fastest women’s sprinter of all time. There is some question, however, about exactly how fast she was. The woman known as Flo-Jo was a successful runner in the early to mid-1980s, winning 200-meter silver medals at the 1984 Olympics and the 1987 World Championships. In 1988, however, she became a record-breaker. Griffith-Joyner opened the 1988 U.S. Olympic Trials with a wind-aided 10.60 clocking in the first heat. She then topped that performance in the quarterfinal, finishing in 10.49 seconds. The wind was gusting on the track that day, but at the end of the quarterfinal race the wind gauge displayed only zeroes. As a result, Griffith-Joyner’s time was ratified as the new world record. The IAAF’s official record book later added a note, stating that Flo-Jo’s time was “probably” wind-aided. But the record still stands.
Griffith-Joyner ran two more unquestionably legal times at the Trials, both of which were under Ashford’s former record. Flo-Jo won her semifinal race in 10.61 and the final in 10.70. So even if her 10.49 performance had been wind-aided, she’d still hold the world record at 10.61 seconds (as of 2012). Griffith-Joyner went on to gain the 1988 Olympic gold medal in a wind-aided 10.54 seconds.
Women's world records.
Women's Olympic records.
Women's mile records.