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

Top Ten 200 Meter Races of All Time – Men

Oct 30th, 2012
7:41 pm PDT

Usain Bolt
Now that the 100 is out of the way it’s forward to the deuce – and frankly the 100 was easier! Here’s the deal. The issue is that this is not about individual performances, it’s supposed to be about the race – the entire race. That said, there have been many great performances where the overall race didn’t match up. Then there are some outstanding races where the times were not stellar – at least by today’s standards.

So I’m guessing, even before I finalize this list, that there will be issues with it for some people. In the end, I think the list is solid and defensible. This event has been neglected throughout the years and run as an afterthought by many. The last half decade or so has seen times drop precipitously, but the lack of great head to heads has diminished many races – even in the major championships. We do get a lot of Bolt on the list, though not as high as some would think.

All that said, there have been some great races and here are my choices for the 10 best in the modern era.

1. 1996 Olympics – After a lot of thought and mental wrestling, Atlanta gets the top spot. It wasn’t an easy choice however. At the end of the day, it was the best finish for a top three; a close finish among the rest off the field; and the game changer that was the winning and runner-up times – and the race was exciting. 19.32 was literally Beamonesque as it took a dozen years for the record to fall – yet it showed what was capable. Second place was just as important as it was faster than the record at the start of the year. And bronze in 19.80 was unheard of. The finish behind the medals was also close, though I would have liked something closer to 20.00. And one can only wonder how things would have turned out if Marsh had run to form.

19.32 – Michael Johnson
19.68 – Frank Frederick
19.80 – Ato Boldon
20.14 – Obadele Thompson
20.17 -Jeff Williams
20.21 – Ivan Garcia
20.27 – Patrick Stevens
20.48 – Michael Marsh

2. 2006 Lausanne Grand Prix – Another game changing race and the only come from behind victory in the event for a race won under 19.70. When sub 20 was still a rare occurrence, and ten years after Atlanta, we get four men at 19.90 or better and the sterling come out of nowhere win by Xavier Carter. Atlanta showed what was possible, the 2006 season brought it into focus, and this race more than any other that season moved the event permanently into the New Millennium. Carter’s stretch run may be the most impressive ever in a major 200. Unfortunately he was not able to replicate and it became his Beamon moment in the sport.

19.63 – Xavier Carter
19.70 – Tyson Gay
19.88 – Usain Bolt
19.90 – Wallace Spearmon
20.10 – Lashawn Merritt
20.18 – Francis Obikwelu

3. 1968 Olympics – After MUCH thought, the first sub20 in a major (Carlos had the first at the Trials), a WR, and a sizzling come from behind win by Smith, and a come from behind sneak in for the bronze medal, moved this race into the #3 spot. Great turn by Carlos, even greater stretch run by Smith – and Norman. Terrific action in the straight. And they revised the all time list.

19.83 – Tommie Smith
20.06 – Peter Norman
20.09 – John Carlos
20.34 – Edwin Roberts
20.51 – Roger Bambuck
20.62 – Larry Questad
20.63 – Michael Fray
20.66 – Joachim Eigenherr

4. 2001 World Championships – No sub20, but too close and exciting to be lower. Kederis duplicated his come from behind win from Sydney running past the field in the closing meters. As he did so, the field bunched up on itself in a finish closer than the average 100 Meter final! If it had been sub20 of any kind it would have been number one. This was a great race by any definition.

20.04 – Kostas Kenteris
20.20 – Chris Williams
20.20 – Shawn Crawford
20.20 – Kim Collins
20.22 – Christian Malcolm
20.24 – Stephan Buckland
20.25 – Kevin Little
20.38 – Marlon Devonish

5. 1987 World Championships – Again no sub20 – but then only recently is that a semi common phenomenon. It was another great finish however, under the spotlight of a World Championship. This time only .02 separated the medals. Another .03 separating the next three finishers. Not quite as close as Edmonton, but still worthy of a 100 meter final.The win also gave Smith the first set of back to back wins at Worlds in the event against one of the more solid fields in the 80’s.

20.16 – Calvin Smith
20.16 – Giles Queneherve
20.18 – John Regis
20.22 – Robson da Silva
20.23 – Vladimir Krylov
20.25 – Floyd Heard
20.45 – Pier Francisco Pavoni
20.75 – Atlee Mahorn

6. 2009  World Championships – The WR race garners this spot on the strength of the three 19.8s that followed Bolt’ s massive lead. The gap between Bolt and the field was just too big to call this a race, but with, five men under 20, this race had to make the list. I know many look at 19.19 and say great race – and it was for Bolt. Unfortunately everyone else was along for the ride.

19.19 – Usain Bolt
19.81 – Alonso Edward
19.85 – Wallace Spearmon
19.89 – Shawn Crawford
19.98 – Steve Mullings
20.39 – Charles Clark
20.61 – Ramil  Guliyev
20.68 – David Alerte

7. 1988 Olympics – How about a major upset at near WR time? That’s what we got in Seoul when Deloach repeated his Trials win over Lewis at the Games just .03 off the WR – with Lewis only .04 back. The race for bronze was also close, and was near 20.00, but the rest of the field wasn’t strong enough to move this race up.

19.75 – Joe Deloach
19.79 – Carl Lewis
20.04 – Robson da Silva
20.09 – Linford Christie
20.39 – Atlee Mahorn
20.40 – Giles Queneherve
20.51 – Michael Rosswess
20.58 – Bruno Marie Rose

8. 2011 Brussels Diamond League – On the list, off the list. I’ve played that game over and over. At the end of the day the fact that it is the best 1,2 finish ever in a head to head put it on the list. Another pair of  sub 20’s helped, though they were too far back to matter. This race shows just how much the Circuit is missing by not getting stronger fields and featuring the event. All that said the race between Blake and Dix was classic!

19.26 – Yohan Blake
19.53 – Walter Dix
19.91 – Nickel Ashmeade
19.97 – Jaysuma Ndure
20.41 – Rondell Sorrillo
20.57 – Ainsley Waugh
20.73 -Jonathan A strand
20.74 – Rytis Sakalsuskas

9. 2012 Olympics – The “magic” number 19.32 appears on the list a second time as Bolt finishes in the identical time that MJ made famous. The difference now is that the WR had been lowered, and the places behind the first two are not as impressive in 2012 with a huge gap back to bronze and only four under 20. Still that 1,2 finish is the best ever – I just wish the rest of the field had finished better.

19.32 – Usain Bolt
19.44 – Yohan Blake
19.84 – Warren Weir
19.90 – Wallace Spearmon
20.00 – Churandy Martina
20.19 – Christophe Lemaitre
20.57 – Alex Quinonez
20.69 – Anaso Jobodwana

10. 2011 World Championships – Another big win for Bolt with the field stretched out behind him. Almost too stretched out to make the list as the race was not very exciting. However, strength of results slipped it in, with three men at 19.80 or better, and four under 20.00.

19.40 – Usain Bolt
19.70 – Walter Dix
19.80 – Christophe Lemaitre
19.95 – Jaysuma Ndure
20.29 – Nickel Ashmeade
20.31 – Bruno de Barros
20.34 – Rondell Sorrillo

That was difficult. I can almost imagine what the women’s list will look like – but let’s give it a shot.

6 Responses to “Top Ten 200 Meter Races of All Time – Men”

  1. Anderson says:

    This is a very well put together list. And I like that there are only 3 “Bolt” performances when some would fill a top ten list with is races. (Lausanne I consider to be before his real break out)

    1996 is undisputed #1 because of how much of a game change it was, but I personally would have put 2001 WC at #2 because of how much of a race it really was, even if the times were not spectacular. With 100m to go you have the entire field basically even. Then only .05 between 2nd and 7th at the finish. That’s a race!

    • CHill says:

      Thanks .. I struggled with several races including some that didn’t make the list .. Edmonton was especially difficult .. In the end, it came down to two things for me .. One, the times were just a cut below even for 01 … A 19.9 win with a bunch of 20.1s would have moved it to number two … Two, the three races above it were all game changers of a sort .. So with the times a tad off, that’s as high as I could go ..

  2. Rohan says:

    Great compilation; i would however find a way to include the beijing 200, maybe at the expence of London 2012. Like Atlanta, like Lausanne, it was a sort of game changer and the results behind Bolt were no chopped liver either.

    • CHill says:

      If I were going to drop a race and add another it would be the 1988 US Trials

      Deloach 19.96
      Lewis 20.01
      Martin 20.05
      Robinson 20.05

      The problem was the drop off after .. .27, .42, .49, .64 … A great race on the top end … just missed making my cut …

      Beijing was Bolt in a WR and that’s it ..

  3. Pipie says:

    The WR 200y race where Quarrie and S. Williams ran 19.9 needs to be considered.

    • CHill says:

      That’s one of my favorite all time head to heads .. One of the best races ever run in Eugene .. But the rest of the field didn’t back em up … Plus, like I said earlier, the 88 Trials race would be next on my list to be pity on the list ..

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