“Jamaican Asafa Powell broke the world 100m record by clocking 9.74 secs at the IAAF Grand Prix in Rieti, Italy.”
I remember Ben Johnson breaking the 100m world record at the Seoul Olympics in 1988, almost 20 years ago now. It was an amazing sight. He was so far ahead of the others it was unbelievable, especially for a 100m race. It was almost like one of the dads had joined in the kids race on Sports Day. Of course he was later found to have been on steroids at the time, but that race has stuck in my mind all these years, in part because of what happened later but also because of the time – 9.79s and the lead that Johnson had. It was staggering how far ahead he was of the others and the fact that in the aftermath of the doping the world record went back to 9.93, was a great testament to how much better drugs can make an athlete.
When he made his comeback in 1991 and took part in the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 Johnson again demonstrated just what a difference the years on drugs had made. I had expected him to get to the final and probably win, still remembering that final in 1988, and seriously thought him a danger to Christie, that was until I saw him race. You could use many words and phrases to sum up his performance – jaded, over the hill, lacklustre but the one that really sums it up is – clean. I don’t think that there is any doubt that Johnson was clean at the 1992 Olympics.
In 1993 he was disqualified for life after again testing positive for drugs. He just couldn’t compete with the other athletes without illegal aid. Drugs and Johnson doesn’t end there though. He went on to become a football coach for Colonel Gadhafi’s son in 1999. He was pretty successful as Gadhafi’s son went on to join an Italian club before being sacked after one game for, you’ve guessed it, failing a drugs test!
As I said though that race left such an indelible mark on my mind that I thought that without drugs it would be impossible for someone to run that fast again. I assumed that Johnson’s expunged world record would never be equalled, that it was the pinnacle of human speed over 100m and would be impossible to equal without steroids or some other kind of artificial aid.
It seems silly now though, not only was the record equalled in 1999 (albeit 11 years after it was set), but it was broken in 2002, ironically by another drugs cheat, Tim Montgomery and then properly in 2005 by Asafa Powell (and equalled several times by Powell and by Justin Gatlin), before being broken again today. I still find it amazing that the records set by Carl Lewis and Calvin Smith, who were at the zenith of their sport 20 years ago are now so regularly beaten. Have training and preparation become so much better, or is there another reason?
For instance Asafa Powell who broke the world record today with a time of 9.74s in one race, also ran 9.78s in another, yet he only managed to run 9.96 and finish third at the World Championships two weeks ago. Either one of today’s times would have been enough to gain him first place a fortnight ago. Now call me cynical but there used to be saying years ago, that the reason that so many records were broken outside of major championships was because there was less drugs testing than at the big events, could this still be the case?
If not then I am seriously beginning to wonder just how fast a man can run.
Anyway the world record may be getting lower and lower but there is one 100m milestone that seems to be unbreakable. You may, or perhaps may not, be surprised to learn that officially no white man has ever run under 10 seconds. The man who has come closest (and technically succeeded) was a Pole named Marian Woronin who in 1984 ran 9.992 seconds in the 100m in Warsaw, unfortunately for Woronin this was officially rounded up to 10s dead. Other than that the next closest white man was Pietro Mennea in Mexico City in 1979 who ran 10.01, however that was at altitude. Both times were 20-25 years ago, white men it seems, just aren’t getting any faster.
20 years ago it would have meant something for a white man to break the 10s barrier, today it probably wouldn’t even guarantee a top 3 placing and certainly wouldn’t even get them into the top twelve fastest sprinters of all time.
In the ever decreasing 100m times, white men are getting left behind.