Athletics: 100m: what is the fastest possible time?

Updated 28 Aug 2011

In 2010, current world record holder Usain Bolt himself said that he thought he could do a 9.4 seconder.

In 2008, Professor Peter Weyand, of Southern Methodist University, world authority on physiology & biomechanics, known for his expertise in terrestrial locomotion and human and animal performance, was quoted to have said:

It not impossible that humans will one day be able to run the 100m in 5 seconds flat. Humans would soon have the ability to modify and greatly enhance muscle fibre strength. This is would actually reduce the difference between the muscle properties of humans and the world’s fastest animal, the cheetah, to almost zero. Probably humans will never outrun the cheetah, because the same laws of physics apply to all runners. However, biologically speaking, speed is conferred by an ability of the limbs to hit the ground forcefully in relation to the body’s weight, an attribute conferred largely by the properties of the muscles of the runner. The fast four-legged runners or quadrupeds do seem to be advantaged versus bipeds in terms of the mechanics allowed by their anatomy. These mechanics help quadrupeds to get the most out of the muscles that they have in a way that bipedal runners probably cannot.

28 Aug 2007

At the recent World Championships in Athletics held in Japan, the most anticipated 100m race of the year took place. It was a duel between the world’s greatest sprinters, a clash of titans Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell, both unbeaten this season. Gay clocked the fastest time this season at 9.84 and Powell is world record holder, having clocked 9.77s not once but 3 times since 2005.

Many people expected the world record to fall due to the intense rivalry between the two superstars and the fast track, but what happened instead was Gay, even though he became world champion, did not even equal his personal best and Powell disappointingly faded to finish third. Powell’s excuse: “I just tightened up and panicked. I felt Tyson coming and panicked. During the rounds I felt fine but I made a huge mistake in the final and it cost me the race.”

If Gay’s time is only 0.02 seconds faster than Carl Lewis’ mark set 16 years ago, how fast can humans ever run the 100m?

In April 1996 in El Paso, Texas, Obadele Thompson ran the fastest 100 m race ever, at the incredible time of 9.69 seconds. However, it was achieved with the following wind in excess of 5 m/s, well over the IAAF legal limit of 2.0 m/s, and the mark was not officially recognized. Still, that was the fastest ever time a human has been timed to run a 100m race, legal or not.

Well, how about a legal race then? If we look at the perfect race, i.e. the best 10m splits in history (as of August 2006), the time would come up to be even more incredible: 9.46 seconds (source quoted at bottom):

This list has undergone dramatic change as I have included split-times from Gatlin’s 9.77=WR in Doha earlier this year. Kim Collins’ 1.67 0-10m Minus RT is taken away as it was an estimate split-time that I gave for him in my 2004 Athens OG 100m Final Analysis

Also, with the inclusion of Gatlin’s new best time of 0.85 from 30-40m Mo Greene & Asafa lose their shares of the best split in that section.

Reaction Time [RT] Limit: 0.100

0-10m: 1.69 [Minus RT], Raymond STEWART [9.96 Tokyo WC 91], Frankie FREDERICKS [9.86 Lausanne GP 96], Maurice GREENE [9.79WR Athens GP 99 & 9.82 Edmonton WC 01] [Note: 1.69, also by Ben JOHNSON 9.79 Seoul OG 88 DQ & Tim MONTGOMERY 9.85 Edmonton WC 01 DQ]

10-20m: 1.00, Bruny SURIN [9.84 Sevilla WC 99] & Maurice GREENE [9.82 Edmonton WC 01] [Note: 1.00s, also by Ben JOHNSON 10.15 Roma WCH SF 1987 DQ]

20-30m: 0.89, Maurice GREENE [9.87 Stockholm GP 99]

30-40m: 0.85, Justin GATLIN [9.77=WR Doha GP 06]

40-50m: 0.84, Carl LEWIS [9.86WR Tokyo WC 91], Frankie FREDERICKS [9.86 Lausanne GP 96] & Maurice GREENE [9.93 Lausanne GP 99] [Note: 0.84, also by Ben JOHNSON 9.79 Seoul OG 88 DQ & Tim MONTGOMERY 9.78 Paris GPF 02 DQ]

50-60m: 0.82, Maurice GREENE [9.85 Roma GP 99, 9.86 Berlin GL 00 & 9.87 Sydney OG 00]

60-70m: 0.83, Donovan BAILEY [9.93 Lausanne GP 96) & Maurice GREENE [9.86 Berlin GL 00, 9.87s Sydney OG 00 & 9.82 Edmonton WC 01]

70-80m: 0.83, Carl LEWIS [9.86WR Tokyo WCH 91] & Maurice GREENE [9.86 Berlin GL 00 & 9.87 Sydney OG 00]

80-90m: 0.85, Carl LEWIS [10.03 Roma WCH SF 87, 9.93WR Roma WC 87, 9.97 Seoul OG SF 88 & 10.02 Stuttgart WC 93], Maurice GREENE [9.79WR Athens GP 99, 9.80 Sevilla WC 99 & Sydney OG 00], Asafa POWELL [9.77WR Athens GP 05 & 9.77=WR Gateshead GP 06] & Justin GATLIN [9.77=WR Doha GP 06] [Note: 0.85, also Tim MONTGOMERY 9.78 Paris GPF 02 DQ]

90-100m: 0.85, Carl LEWIS [9.99 Los Angeles OG 84 & 10.02 Stuttgart WC 93], Maurice GREENE [9.79WR Athens GP 99], Asafa POWELL [9.77WR Athens GP 05] & Justin GATLIN [9.77=WR Doha GP 06]

Fastest ever recorded ‘legal’ Reaction Time: 0.100, Jon Drummond [Monaco GP 1993]

Total [Without Drummond's Perfect 0.100RT]: 9.45

Total [With Drummonds Perfect 0.100RT]: 9.55

Official Split-times:
*Ray Stewart 1.69 0-10m Minus RT
*Ben Johnson 1.69 0-10m Minus RT, 1.00 10-20m & 0.84 40-50m DQ
*Carl Lewis 0.84 40-50m, 0.83 70-80m, 0.85 80-90m & 0.85 90-100m

Video-Analysis Split-times:
pierrejean analysis
*Asafa Powell 0.85 80-90m & 0.85 90-100m
*Tim Montgomery 0.84 40-50m & 0.85 90-100m

My analysis
*Frankie Fredericks 1.69 0-10m Minus RT & 0.84 40-50m

*Maurice Greene 1.69 0-10m Minus RT, 1.00 10-20m, 0.89 20-30m, 0.84 40-50m, 0.82 50-60m, 0.83 60-70m, 0.83 70-80m, 0.85 80-90m & 0.85 90-100m

*Tim Montgomery 1.69 0-10m Minus RT

*Justin Gatlin 0.85 30-40m, 0.85 80-90m & 0.85 90-100m

*Donovan Bailey 0.83 60-70m

*Carl Lewis 0.85 90-100m

Some observations of the above:
- Maurice Greene stands alone as the fastest human at the 50-60m mark, covering 10m in a mere 0.82 seconds.
- Even after all these years, Carl Lewis is still ranked among the fastest 100m finishers in history, equalling the top times for the last 30m of the century race.


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