Usain Bolt: When Tyson Gay ran faster than former 100m world record in 2008

  • Kobe Tong
Gay at the US Olympic Trials.

Usain Bolt’s 100-metre world record currently stands at a head-spinning 9.58 seconds.

However, that wasn’t always the case, because it’s easy to forget that Bolt actually set a new world record as the planet’s fastest man no less than three times throughout his legendary career.

Before a prime Bolt began to tear everybody in track and field apart, the men’s 100-metre world record stood at 9.74 seconds, which fellow Jamaican Asafa Powell posted in September 2007.

Bolt’s collection of world records

The quickest run in history that we all know today was produced by Bolt just two years later as he won the 100m final at the 2009 World Athletic Championships in the aforementioned time of 9.58.

As such, during that two-year period, Bolt chiselled away at Powell’s former world record twice with the second of which famously coming in the 2008 Olympic final when he clocked 9.69 seconds despite slowing up in celebration fully 20 metres before the line.

However, the oft-forgotten first time that Bolt ever broke the 100m world record actually came at a minor meet in New York when he stormed to a time of 9.72 seconds in May 2008.

Bolt's first 100m world record.
NEW YORK – MAY 31: Jamaica’s Usain Bolt celebrates after winning the Men’s 100m at the Reebok Grand Prix at Icahn Stadium at Randalls Island Park on May 31, 2008 in New York City. Bolt set a new world record, covering the distance in 9.72 seconds. (Photo by: Victah Sailer/Getty Images)

Gay breaking the record?!

And hold that thought for a second because the sporting world was actually only a few notches on a wind gauge away from having experienced a situation that seems impossible: someone breaking Bolt’s 100m world record.

That’s because it looked for a few seconds as though that was exactly what happened at the US Trials for the 2008 Olympics when Bolt’s record stood at that New York barrier of 9.72.

In dramatic scenes that are still remarkable to watch almost 15 years on, Tyson Gay – the joint-second-fastest man in history – looked to have won the 100-metre final in a time that was quicker than Bolt’s world record.

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Gay at the US Trials.
Tyson Gay poses for photographers after winning the men’s 100 meter race at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Oregon June 29, 2008. REUTERS/Mike Blake (UNITED STATES) (BEIJING OLYMPICS 2008 PREVIEW)

Gay’s staggering 9.86

The American star crossed the line in an eye-watering time of 9.68 seconds, which is quicker than even Bolt’s second world record and would rank to this day as the fastest 100m run by anyone other than you-know-who.

However, as the commentators quickly realised, the world record wouldn’t stand because Gay posted the time with a back wind of 4.1 metres per second that comfortably exceeded the 2m/s limit for records.

But as the co-commentator very pertinently pointed out, it was nevertheless the fastest time that any human had covered 100 metres regardless of the circumstances at the time it was posted.

Smashing the previous wind-aided best of 9.69 seconds set by Obadele Thompson in the 1990s, Gay still blew everybody away in an astonishing run that you can relive for yourselves down below:

Goodness gracious me. Imagine thinking you’d just become the fastest man in history, only to kind of miss out, but then kind of not.

So close, yet so far

Obviously, the wind rules are set by World Athletics for good reason because otherwise you could have ridiculous circumstances like the one set up by Japanese TV to help Justin Gatlin cover 100m in 9.45 seconds.

And the conditions were more than double what would be legally allowed, so there’s no reason to believe that Bolt would have feasibly lost to Gay had he also been competing that day.

Nevertheless, it still makes for a fascinating moment in athletics history where someone ran faster than the 100-metre record, but didn’t actually break it.

Gay clocks 9.68 over 100m.
Tyson Gay (R) runs past a scoreboard after winning the men’s 100 meters race in a wind-aided time of 9.68 seconds at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Oregon, June 29, 2008. Gay’s time was the fastest ever run in a 100 meters race. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola (UNITED STATES) (BEIJING OLYMPICS 2008 PREVIEW)

All these years later and it’s the closest that anyone has come – technicality or not – to breaking any world record set by arguably the greatest athlete to have ever lived.

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