Usain Bolt has now been the 100m world record holder for a whole decade. His name was first scribed into the record books 10 years ago on this day: May 31st, 2008, in New York.
Bolt sliced through the tape in 9.72 seconds, convincingly beating Tyson Gay, one of the fastest men ever.
This was just 10 days after Manchester United lifted the Champions League trophy, so Bolt—a dedicated Red Devil himself—must have had some extra motivation to do something special.
But Usain was wise in one of his post-race interviews …
The World record means nothing without gold medals in the World Championships or the Olympics.
Who knew that he would go on to redefine sprinting limits and become one of the most recognizable faces in the world?
A Short Backstory
Tyson Gay ended the 2007 season on top of the world. He swept up three gold medals at the World Championships in Osaka, winning the triple crown of short sprints, i.e., the 100m, 200m and the 4x100m relay—only the second man to do so after Maurice Greene did it first in 1999.
The then-world-record holder Asafa Powell failed to live up to expectations. His campaign in Osaka ended with a rather disappointing bronze in the 100m and a silver in the relay, although he impressively managed to lower his 100m world record from 9.77 down to 9.74 at the tail end of the season.
It was clear who the favourites were going to be for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
But there was a twist in the script…
The story goes that Usain Bolt—primarily a 200m sprinter at the time (remember that he claimed silver in Osaka, only behind Tyson Gay)—really wanted to get serious about the shorter sprint because he absolutely did NOT want to train for the grueling 400m. His coach, Glen Mills, promised Bolt that he would let him train for the 100m if he could beat the Jamaican national record in the 200m, which stood at 19.86 and was set by Don Quarrie 36 years prior. Bolt achieved that goal at the Jamaican Championships in June 2007, clocking 19.75.
Bolt was then allowed to further explore his potential in the 100 m, and he was lined up to compete at the Jamaica Invitational in Kingston. On May 3rd, 2008, Bolt ran a time of 9.76 and sending shockwaves through the athletics world. It was the second-fastest performance in history, just two one-hundredths behind his compatriot Asafa Powell.
It was an incredible display of sprinting, but some people were saying that it was just a fluke and that he’d have to replicate it against better competitors.
And well, the rest is history…
Žiga P. Škraba