A reader had a great idea, to go through and create lists of the top 10 races by event. Nice idea, so I decided to give it a shot. So I’m starting with the 100 – first the men then will follow with the women – and will work my way up in distance if its something that people like/find interesting.
Obviously my rankings will be based on races that I’ve had a chance to see, which means live, TV, or video. If there are others that I’ve not been privy to, please bring them to my attention. I’ve also tried to look at overall races and results – not just a single result in a race. So my list is dominated by the World Championships and Olympics, since that seems to be the one time when we can get enough sprinters together to create great overall races.
I did come close to putting two non championship races on the list. The 1988 Zurich Invitational where Lewis, Smith, and Johnson went head to head weeks before the Seoul Games. And the 1980 Pepsi Invitational at UCLA where James Sanford screamed 10.02 to move to #3 all time performer (behind 9.95/9.98A). The Pepsi race was full of studs, but none were close enough to Sanford to make it a race – though the finish behind him was close. Zurich was a three man affair with the sprint cast not up to par.
And so it’s been over the years with the men’s 100. Non championship depth has not been great enough to make the list. Most races even during “glory” years of sprinting have been 3 to 4 deep on the top end vs championship races with speed throughout. In sure this will change as the distances increase – especially with longer races. With that, here are what I consider the ten best 100 meter races in the modern era.
1. 1991 World Championships – Close call here with #2, but in the end it was the closeness of the medalists that gives this race the top spot – and the fact that it was a record run with second place below the previous record. It was also a very exciting race with Lewis’s come from behind win in the closing stages of the race. There was some serious movement on the all time list, as this race had everything you could want in a 100 meter dash.
2. 2012 Olympics – I’m sure that many expected this to be #1 – and in terms of overall finish it is. However, in comparing across eras, this race was just a hair off the Tokyo race. The medal race was not as close and there was no record set, though Bolt ran the #2 time ever. This race makes #2 because of its depth, and the fight for places 2 (9.76), 3 (9.79), and 4 (9.80) – that alone was classic.
3. 1987 World Championships – This race was in the running for #2, because it may have been the top rivalry race of all time. Yes I know all about Seoul – it made the list – but this is the rivalry race where the underdog won! Carl was Mr. Everything, but Ben had put together back to back seasons that marked him as a legitimate challenger. The race was a classic starter v finisher with the starter holding off the finisher and the rest of the field being towed along to super (at the time) Times.
4. 2009 World Championships – The best 1,2 finish in the history of the event and the World record earns the #4 spot. After all its not every day you see 9.58 or 9.71 on a results sheet, let alone the same race. Unfortunately the race was not close enough, nor deep enough to move it up higher. Third place in 9.84 was good but the drop off to a pair of 9.93s was just too much.
5. 1968 Olympics – The first legal sub10 (Hayes actually had a windy 9.91 in ’64) with Jim Hines running 9.95 coming from behind. Throw in a close medal race with 10.04 & 10.07 claiming #2 & #3 all time, to go with a close overall finish, and you have the race that brought sprinting into the modern era. Sprinters chased the standards established in this race for the next decade and a half.
6. 2001 World Championships – This race was the epitome of rivalry/competition – equal to Lewis v Johnson on the “I hate you” scale! Montgomery was on the verge of taking the crown away from Greene. Greene was determined to have none of it. So much so, that in spite of pulling a muscle in mid race Greene held Montgomery off and three peated as World Champion in 9.82 – #3 time ever at the time behind his own record and winning time in’99.
7. 1988 US Olympic Trials – The only windy race to make the list, but windy or not this was one hell of a race. Let’s start with the fact that it was a “throw down the gauntlet” race for Lewis who knew that Ben Johnson was watching. Then let’s go with 9.78 as the winning time followed by 9.86, 9.87, 9.88, 9.90 when the WR stood at 9.83! Then take a look at 3rd & 4th where .01 was the difference in making the team. Yes it was windy, but it had everything that great races have – and man was it exciting.
8. 1988 Olympics – That #7 race was the perfect prelude to the greatest grudge match in sprinting history IMHO. Yes I know the results only lasted for three days. Yes I know Ben was busted. But this was one of the greatest races of all time based solely on the Lewis v Johnson rivalry. People still talk about this race, and with good reason as it may have had the greatest build up ever for any race. The fact that Ben was busted only adds to the legend of Seoul.
9. 2004 Olympics – This was simply a great race – unexpectedly so. There are many races that have Great build ups that fall way short of the mark. This is one of those rare races with low expectations that delivered much more. The question “could Mo Greene repeat” was the backdrop, with the side story of Asafa Powell attempting to stay undefeated. At the end of the day Greene took bronze (9.87); four men broke 9.90; and Gatlin (9.85) & Obikwelu (9.86) made major moves on the all time list in a blanket finish among the top five sprinters. Record setting aside, this was as good as it gets.
10. 1968 US Olympic Trials – The Night of Speed. That’s how history remembers the set of races at the Olympic Trials in Sacramento. Jim Hines set the hand timed WR at 9.9 with Charlie Greene (9.9) & Ronnie Ray Smith (9.9) equaling in second and third. They were followed by three 4 more 10.0s. Yes I know it was hand timing, but the auto timing (it was used but not official) had Hines at 10.03 still serious running on a dirt track!
One other race that narrowly got left on my cutting room floor was the 1971 US Championships. It missed for two reasons – windy and run in yards. In terms of competitiveness and close finish however none really compare: 9.22 Delano Merriwether, 9.23 Jim Greene, 9.24 Don Quarrie, 9.29 Charlie Greene, 9.34 Ivory Crockett, 9.35 Bobby Turner, 9.40 Warren Edmonson, 9.41 Eddie Hart. That’s .19 separating everyone in the race! You don’t see that in many races at all, let alone a championship race. Everybody came to play that day. And isn’t that really the mark of a great race?
Ok, let me give the women’s event a try next.