Olympics! A hush descends on the jam-packed stadium. It is the start of the 100 meters men’s event. In each of the six lanes, the warm-up of the six men begins as they nail in their chocks and practice their starts. The booming voice of the announcer comes over the public’s address system as he introduces each of the athletes in each of the lanes. As a name is called, the athlete raises his hands and acknowledges the applause of his fans. There is a palpable tension in the air and despite the hush, the sound of silent heartbeats is deafening. The starter calls in a soft, soothing yet authoritative voice. The sprinters kneel down and adjust their spikes onto the blocks. The take-off from the chocks is critical: the launch has to be perfect for a win. Resting on their hands, head up and forward, looking at the far end of the 100 meters, they await the sound of the pistol as it fires. This is the race everyone has been waiting for. This is the sprint that will decide who is going to be the fastest man on earth. The 100 mtrs dash.
This is the shortest race in the track events. Run across a straight stretch, the 100 meters run is over in seconds. Through the 1990s it was believed that the sprint could not be covered below 10 seconds. It was sort of accepted that the 10 second barrier could not be lowered. Prior to 1977 all timings were done manually. 3 timekeepers used stopwatches to time the runners. The median of the three timings was considered the official figure. With the introduction of the Fully Automatic Timing (FAT) the timing was accurate to 100th of a second. Once the barrier was broken the timing hovered around nine seconds.
Jesse Owens. USA. 1936 Berlin Olympics. 10.3 seconds – He shattered Hitler’s theory that the German “Aryan” race was the most superior in the world. Not only did he win the 100 mtrs, in all, he won 4 Gold at that Olympiad. Such a feat had not been achieved by any American athlete till that time. Jesse Owens created history at those games.
Jim Hines. USA. 1968 Mexico Olympics. 9.95 seconds – Jim Hines was the first man to break the 10 second barrier. This record remained unbeaten for almost 15 years until Calvin Smith, running in a different championship, clocked 9.93 seconds.
Carl Lewis. USA. 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. 9.99 seconds – In that Olympics, Carl Lewis equaled the feat of Jesse Owens of winning four Gold medals. He also became the first American athlete to defend his 100 meters title at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, albeit by default. In that sprint, 4 out of 8 sprinters clocked below 10 seconds. First to breast the tape was Ben Johnson with Carl Lewis coming a close second. When Ben Johnson was disqualified and stripped of his title because of failing a dope test, Carl Lewis was declared the winner with a timing of 9.92 seconds.
Linford Christie. Great Britain. 1992 Barcelona Olympics. 9.96 seconds – In the 1984 Olympics, Christie moved to second place after Carl Lewis when Ben Johnson was disqualified. In the Barcelona Olympics, in the absence of Carl Lewis, Linford Christie became the first European to win a Gold in this race. Also, at 32, he was the oldest person to have won a Gold in this event.
Usain Bolt. Jamaica. 2008 Beijing Olympics. 9.69 seconds – A new world record in this event was created by Usain Bolt. The tall Jamaican appeared, effortlessly, to run the 100 meters, winning with a considerable lead over his nearest rival. Then again, in the 2012 London Olympics, Bolt, successfully, defended his sprint title with a record winning 9.63 seconds run. Usain Bolt is the only other person, after Carl Lewis, to win a Gold in two successive Olympiads.
The 100 meter dash is undoubtedly the most prestigious athletic event. Winning this event is a singular honor and watching the race being run is savored by the spectator. Even though the whole event is over within 10 seconds, the buildup to it and the actual run is nothing but spectacular. In this run there is no spacing as is done for long distance running. Here, the start plays a significant part in winning of the race. A good start gives runner a great advantage. Thereafter, the top speed has to be reached quickly and is to be maintained till the finishing line. Hours of practice, a perfect mindset and the determination to win, are the hallmarks of a Gold medalist. The 100 meters dash is an event one does not miss to watch, even if it is on television.
Lane 2, Richard Thomson, Trinidad and Tobago. Lane 3, Asafa Powell, Jamaica. Lane 4, Tyson Gay, USA. Lane 5, Yohaan Blake, Jamaica. Lane 6, Justin Gatlin, USA. Lane 7, Usain Bolt, Jamaica. Lane 8, Ryan Bailey, USA. Lane 9, Churandy Martina, Netherlands. The best part of this race was that, barring Asafa Powell, all the runners covered the distance in below 10 secs. The starter takes his position and a deadly silence descends on the Stadium. Nobody wants to miss the start. All eyes are on the athletes as they get down on their knees and get ready for the start. The sprinters adjust the positions on the blocks. In the silence, you hear one word, “Set”. In the next second you hear the crack of the starter’s pistol and the runners take off. The crowd erupts into a roar. Anyone of those runners could finish first. Anyone of those runners could end up creating history. Muscles straining, legs pumping, all the runners dash towards the finishing line. In the last few seconds of the race, pulling away from the pack, it is Usain Bolt who breasts the tape, breaking his own world record. For the next four years, Usain Bolt, is the fastest man on Earth.