With the 2012 Olympics coming up in London in a few months time, speculation is mounting as to whether Usain Bolt will set a new World record. He is currently the fastest man on earth having run 9.58 in Berlin in 2009. The question still remains as to how fast he can actually run.
For most of the 20th century, the 100m record was well above 10 seconds. The first person to go under 10 seconds proper with electronic timing was Jim Hines of the USA when he ran 9.95 seconds in the thin air of Mexico City for the 1968 Olympic games. Carl Lewis was the first sprinter to achieve the feat at a low altitude, with 9.97 seconds in 1983. Calvin Smith recorded a world record 9.93 seconds on 3 July 1983, and also became the first sprinter to run under ten seconds twice, repeating the feat in August that year.
In the World Championships in Tokyo in 1991, Carl Lewis ran 9.86 to become the first person to go under 9.9 seconds. Just one year later in July 1994, Leroy Burrell of the US improved it by a mere one hundredth of a second by running 9.85 in Lausanne, Switzerland. Donovan Bailey of Canada went on to lower it to 9.84 in 1996 before Maurice Greene of the US broke the 9.8 second barrier by running 9.79 seconds in Athens, Greece in June 1999.
Greene's record would stand for six years until Asafa Powell of Jamaica ran 9.77 seconds in June 2005 at the Tsiklitiria Super Grand Prix meeting in Athens, Greece. He would improve this to 9.74 seconds in Rieti, Italy in September, 2007.
In May 2008, Usain Bolt starts his dominance of the sport by setting a new record of 9.72 at a Grand Prix meet in New York. In 2008, he would lower it to 9.69 seconds in the final at the Olympic games in Beijing, China.
For anyone used to following 100m events over the last 20 years, anything around 9.9x was considered pretty good. When you saw 9.8x then you knew it really fast. When the times got down to 9.7x then it was really amazing. To see Bolt break the 9.7 barrier in Beijing was really incredible when you consider how much faster than the fast 9.9x seconds back in the 80's. At the World Championships in Berlin in 2009, Bolt ran 9.58 seconds to break his previous record. In terms of a step change, a jump of 11 hundredth's of a second is huge. As you can see from the graph up above, Bolt's times have taken the 100 metres into a completely new area. Can he improve on it? Will anyone follow him?
There is evidence to suggest that Usain Bolt's times are having an impact on other sprinters as well. Professor Steve Haake of Sheffield Hallam University, who has analysed the records of every international 100m track event since 1888 said..."We see in 2008 what we call the Usain Bolt Effect. It is a little jump in performance when he appeared in that year. If we look at the top 25 sprinters and take Usain Bolt out of that list, so that you just analyse the other 24, you still get this step change. What's happened is that he's come on the block and the peer competition is such that everyone has improved. The Usain Bolt Effect improved overall performance of the top 25 sprinters by 0.9 per cent, so almost 1 per cent. When you think that this entire performance index improved in total by 10 per cent since 1948, it is quite extraordinary that the Usain Bolt Effect accounts for a significant proportion of that improvement."
Here is a video clip showing Usain Bolt breaking several world records in his career to date...100m (9.72, 9.69, 9.58), 200m (19.30 19.19), 4x100m relay (37.10)