I started following athletics sometime around the Sydney Olympics in 2000 when the men’s 100m world record stood at 9.79 seconds, set by Maurice Greene a year earlier at a meet in Athens, Greece.
I really admired Greene and it was a great world record, but there was another performance that always captured my imagination; a run of 9.69 by Obadele Thompson from Barbados.
The time was set in El Paso, Texas, on April 13th, 1996. It was aided by a massive +5.7 m/s tail wind, well over the legal limit of 2.0 m/s, so it was obviously never officially recognized as a world record, but this never stopped me from fantasizing about when – if ever – will we see a faster run. The track in El Paso is also more than a thousand meters above sea level, so beside the asterisk for wind, the run was also plagued with a mark of ‘A’ for altitude-assistance.
I remember desperately searching for the video of the run when we first got the internet back in the early 2000s, but as far as I know, it doesn’t exist.
It took 12 years before the time was beaten by Tyson Gay with a wind-assisted run of 9.68 seconds at the 2008 US Olympic Trials in Eugene. But his performance was also aided (though not as much as Thompson’s) by a +4.1 m/s tail wind.
We had to wait another two months before the legend himself, Usain Bolt, finally managed to post a legal time of 9.69 seconds at the 2008 Olympic final in Beijing. And he managed to do it with zero wind (0.0 m/s)!!!
I was over the moon when I finally got to see a 9.69 performance LIVE on television.
The rest is history, and we all know how Bolt lowered the time to 9.58 (+0.9 m/s) in Berlin at the 2009 World Championships.
Since then we saw four more sub 9.70 runs in any conditions, the last of which was a time of 9.69 (-0.1 m/s), set by Yohan Blake of Jamaica in 2012. We then had to wait almost 5 years for another one.
It was Andre De Grasse of Canada who took advantage of incredibly windy conditions at a Diamond League meeting in Stockholm, Sweden, by storming to a time of 9.69 with a +4.8 m/s tail wind and – in a way – completing the circle. I never saw Obadele’s run, but this was a great vindication :).
Sub 9.70 Performances (all conditions):
9.58 (+0.9) Usain Bolt (JAM), Berlin, 16 Aug 2009 9.63 (+1.5) Usain Bolt (JAM), London, 5 Aug 2012 9.68 (+4.1) Tyson Gay (USA), Eugene, 29 June 2008 9.69 ( 0.0) Usain Bolt (JAM), Beijing, 16 Aug 2008 9.69 (+2.0) Tyson Gay (USA), Shanghai, 20 Aug 2009 9.69 (-0.1) Yohan Blake (JAM), Lausanne, 23 Aug 2012 9.69 A (+5.7) Obadele Thompson (BAR), El Paso, 13 Apr 1996 9.69 (+4.8) Andre De Grasse (CAN), Stockholm, 18 Jun 2017
So despite the wind, congratulations to Andre De Grasse for a fantastic performance and a great show for the crowd.
PS: Check out this wind/altitude correction calculator. It uses a standardized formula to adjust the time to what it might have been in conditions with zero wind and at sea level.
Žiga P. Škraba