The CHill Zone of T&F: Conway's View From the Finish Line

Top 100 Meter Races of the Modern Era

Oct 20th, 2012
4:21 pm PDT

Me for Blog pic
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 placeĀ  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 USĀ  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.

14 Responses to “Top 100 Meter Races of the Modern Era”

  1. Rohan says:

    The Beijing 100 cant be far off. in fact should have made it. I know Bolt’s dominance made it look like child’s play, but behind him it was pretty tight. If i remember correctly Doc Patton at 10.03 was last and that with second place at 9.89s.

    • CHill says:

      Look at that spread .. 9.69, then barely under 9.90 followed by a bunch of 9.9s … In ’08 that’s a WR followed by an average race .. Great run for Bolt, but nothing behind him. .. Athens ’97 was a much better race .. Or Atlanta ’96 .. Or Zurich ’06 (Powell 9.77/Gay 9.84) .. Beijing was a one man show .. A good show .. A coronation .. But not a great race IMHO ..

      • Aurelo Feldman says:

        I understand your criteria, that is about the results of the field.

        But I think that the 2008 olympic final should made the list because that race was a game changer, after that sprinters and fans finally saw that was possible to go 9.6 and faster and the general public had the oportunity to watch for the first time a Michael Jordan performance like in athletics and that made them look the sport in a different way.

        When you say that was a avagare race is because Bolt was so superior but at the time was close to 91 in sub 10 performances in a final.

        The 2001 WC final was problably the bravest performance of a sprinter that I ever watched. Greene limping and still holding on to win in 9.82 was amazing.

        I think that 2012 lacked a WR to be number 1.

        2009 was amazing and in my opinion should bem ahead 83, a WR, an American Record and Powell in third with 9,84. Amazing race!

        • CHill says:

          I understand what you’re saying about Beijing .. But the race wasn’t a game changer, Bolt’s run was .. He did all those things you mentioned .. Everyone else was along for the ride .. As for number of sub 10s, the fact that you compare it to a race from 20 years earlier proves my point .. We should be talking about number of sprinters under , 9.90 not under 10.00 …

          There is an argument for ’09 maybe being higher .. I think the first four are all fairly close ..

          • Aurelo Feldman says:

            Ok, I agree and desagree with you.

            I agree that what Bolt did was something extraordinary and he made everything different after that race. I always ask myself how fast he would ran if he ran all the way to the finish.

            But I desagree when you say that we should be talking about sprinters running under 9.90, not 10.00. If you look at the the WC finals and OG finals only 04 and 07 had more than 1 guy under 9.90, it was a rare thing.

            After 09, after the Bolt of 08 efect that we started to see more than a few guys running under 9.90 regularly, making my point that the race was as good as some of the race you mentioned above.

            I believe that the 08 final is responsible for us to expect finals like 12 and 09, but still not a rule, just look at the 11 final and you see what I mean.

          • CHill says:

            I hear you, but here is my point .. while finals with deep 9.9s have been rare they shouldn’t be .. And we should expect to see finals like Athens,since Athens, with multiple 9.8s.. Too many athletes under perform however .. But one shouldn’t lower expectations simply because people fail to meet them .. After 20 years the expectation should be greater, even if it isn’t fulfilled .. Then you get a race like Beijing that shows that indeed we should be expecting more .. It took a couple seasons for the athletes to live up to it, but the delay I’d no excuse to say that Beijing was great, because certainly the following couple of seasons proved that it wasn’t .. Just my opinion ..

            Progress happens when the bar is raised, not lowered ..

  2. Aurelo Feldman says:

    About the 68 race, I always wondered how fast Hines would run nowadays with modern training, being a pro.

    He was ahead of his time, problably like Bolt is today.

    The 88 olympics is problably the most famous/infamous track race of all time.

    Doping aside, everytime that I watch that race Johnson’s start amazes me. Problably one of the greatest starters in the history of the event and problably one of the last ones.

    • CHill says:

      Hines was just fast .. Don’t forget that must sprinters didn’t last past their early 20s back then and Hines went and tried to play football . I think even then he would have gotten close to the 9.7s …

      Ben’s start was freakish … Dope or not it can’t be replicated .. He was easily the best starter ever .. And that’s saying something given guys like Armin Hary, Herb Washington, Ivory Crockett, Houston McTear, Jon Drummond, and Asafa Powell …

  3. Rohan says:

    For all intents and purposes the ’96 final has to be in it. A race filled with studs: Bailey, Mitchell, Fredericks, Bolden etc. and a world record to boot. One word: Scintillating!

    • CHill says:

      Atlanta was right on the edge for me .. Great top 3 … But everyone else under performed on one of the fastest tracks ever .. That’s what kept it off the list for me .

  4. Waynebo says:

    First, let me say this was a great idea and I look forward to the rest in this series. Second, I think the list was on point – including the omission of 2008 (thrilling performance, but a very mediocre race IMO). I still haven’t seen a race that matched the excitement of Tokyo ’91 though this year was very close. A few of those were a little before my time – born in ’68 – so I’ll just take your word for it :-). Third, I suggest, where possible, that you include the race results for each entry. That will support your argument and give us more to banter about. Also, video of the top 3 would be nice – but I know that’s getting a bit tedious.

    • CHill says:

      That’s a good idea about including race results .. I think in most cases I should be able to do that .. Might try videos, but yes that could be a bit more difficult and tedious .. But good ideas, I will incorporate where I can ..

  5. Edwin says:

    For number 3, I assume you mean 1987. Great list!

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