Throughout modern Olympic history, the 100 meter sprint is generally regarded as the most high profile and popular event of each Summer Games. The men's event has been included in every Olympics, while the women's event has been included since 1928. Athletes from the United States have won both events more than any other nation, with sixteen victories in the men's race and nine in the women's, although Jamaica has emerged as a sprinting superpower since the millennium. Despite having a population of less than three million people, Jamaica has dominated this event since 2008, claiming 14 of the 24 medals on offer. While measurements were not as accurate in earlier years, the men's time has fallen from 12 seconds in 1896, to 9.6 seconds in 2012, while the women's has fallen from 12.2 seconds in 1928 to 10.61 in 2020. Since the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, the gold medal times have remained below ten seconds for men, and eleven seconds for women (although altitude allowed for many new records to be set at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, which is 2.2km above sea level).
World's fastest man
The only athlete to ever win three Olympic golds in the 100m sprint was Jamaica's Usain Bolt, who also set the current world record of 9.58 seconds in 2009. In 2016, Bolt even became the first athlete to ever win a "triple-triple" in sprinting, by claiming gold in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m in three consecutive Olympics; however his 2008 gold medal in the 4x100m was rescinded in 2017 when a teammate tested positive for banned substances. Despite this Bolt is widely considered to be the greatest sprinter of all time, with eight gold medals to his name, winning every Olympic final in which he participated. Interestingly, Bolt's right leg is half an inch shorter than his left due to scoliosis, which means that his left foot spends approximately 14 percent more time on the ground when running; biomechanical scientists have failed to conclude whether this has helped or hindered Bolt in his career. Bolt retired in 2017 at the age of thirty.
World's fastest woman
The fastest woman of all time was Florence Griffith-Joyner, whose world record of 10.49 seconds has stood since 1988. "Flo-Jo" also set an Olympic record of 10.62 seconds in 1988 (often given as 10.52, but with a wind assistance of +1.0 seconds); this record stood for 33 years before Elaine Thompson Herah topped it by 0.01 seconds at the Tokyo 2020 Games. Having also set the 200 meter world record at the 1988 Olympics, Griffith-Joyner's rapid improvement in these years saw a number of doping allegations from other high-profile athletes (including Ben Johnson*); the longevity of these records and the disproportionate number of women's records standing since the 1980s has kept these under suspicion. However, Griffith-Joyner was subjected to extra-rigorous testing at the time and passed all doping tests, attributing her athletic success to her new coach and an increased priority on strength training. Griffith-Joyner died suddenly in 1998, but her records have stood for over two decades thereafter; however, results from other athletes have progressively caught up to Flo-Jo's records, so it remains to be seen how long these records remain in place.
Gold medal winning times in the Men's and Women's 100m Sprint at the Summer Olympics from 1896 to 2020
This data was collected using the official Olympic.org site, as well as a spreadsheet from the Guardian that includes data from 1896-2008 (available here), 2012 and 2016 data was compared with that from Encyclopaedia Britannica, and several news outlets were used to update the table when medals were reassigned (i.e. for doping offenses).
The winning athletes (male listed first) and their represented countries are as follows:
1896 - Thomas Burke (US)
1900 - Frank Jarvis (US)
1904 - Archie Hahn (US)
1908 - Reggie Walker (South Africa)
1912 - Ralph Craig (US)
1920 - Charles Paddock (US)
1924 - Harold Abrahams (Great Britain)
1928 - Percy Williams (Canada) & Elizabeth Robinson (US)
1932 - Eddie Tolan (US) & Stanislawa Walasiewicz (Poland)
1936 - Jesse Owens (US) & Helen Stephens (US)
1948 - Harrison Dillard (US) & Fanny Blankers-Koen (Netherlands)
1952 - Lindy Remigino (US) & Marjorie Jackson (Australia)
1956 - Bobby Morrow (US) & Betty Cuthbert (Australia)
1960 - Armin Hary (Germany) & Wilma Rudolph (US)
1964 - Bob Hayes (US) & Wyomia Tyus (US)
1968 - Jim Hines (US) & Wyomia Tyus (US)
1972 - Valeriy Borzov (USSR) & Renate Stecher (East Germany)
1976 - Hasley Crawford (Trinidad and Tobago) & Annegret Richter-Irrgang (West Germany)
1980 - Allan Wells (Great Britain) & Lyudmila Kondratyeva (USSR)
1984 - Carl Lewis (US) & Evelyn Ashford (US)
1988 - Carl Lewis* (US) & Florence Griffith Joyner** (US)
1992 - Linford Christie (Great Britain) & Gail Evers (US)
1996 - Donovan Bailey (Canada) & Gail Devers (US)
2000 - Maurice Greene (US) & Not awarded***
2004 - Justin Gatlin (US) & Yuliya Nestsiarenka (Belarus)
2008 - Usain Bolt (Jamaica) & Shelly-Anne Fraser-Price (Jamaica)
2012 - Usain Bolt (Jamaica) & Shelly-Anne Fraser-Price (Jamaica)
2016 - Usain Bolt (Jamaica) & Elaine Thompson (Jamaica)
2020 - Lamont Marcell Jacobs (Italy) & Elaine Thompson-Herah (Jamaica)
*The original winner of the men's 100m was Ben Johnson (Canada), however Johnson tested positive for a banned substance two days later, and Carl Lewis was then promoted to first place, making him the first male to successfully defend their title. Johnson's World Record times set between 1981 and 1988 were also rescinded, making Lewis' time of 9.92 seconds the new World Record.
**Florence Griffith Joyner's time was judged as "wind assisted", therefore the official World Record for the women's 100m sprint is Joyner's fastest wind-legal time of 10.61 seconds. (Joyner's fastest ever time was 10.49 seconds, set at the US Olympic Trials in 1988, but this was also "strongly wind assisted").
***The original winner in the women's 100m was Marion Jones (US), however she later admitted to using performance enhancing drugs and was stripped of her medal. As the runner-up, Ekaterini Thanou (Greece) had also been involved in a doping scandal prior to the 2004 Olympics, she was not promoted to first place; instead, the third and fourth placed runners were promoted to joint-second and third respectively.
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olympic.org, & The Guardian. (August 2, 2021). Gold medal winning times in the Men's and Women's 100m Sprint at the Summer Olympics from 1896 to 2020 (in seconds) [Graph]. In Statista. Retrieved January 26, 2022, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/1090316/olympics-100m-gold-medal-times-since-1896/
olympic.org, und The Guardian. "Gold medal winning times in the Men's and Women's 100m Sprint at the Summer Olympics from 1896 to 2020 (in seconds)." Chart. August 2, 2021. Statista. Accessed January 26, 2022. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1090316/olympics-100m-gold-medal-times-since-1896/
olympic.org, The Guardian. (2021). Gold medal winning times in the Men's and Women's 100m Sprint at the Summer Olympics from 1896 to 2020 (in seconds). Statista. Statista Inc.. Accessed: January 26, 2022. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1090316/olympics-100m-gold-medal-times-since-1896/
olympic.org, and The Guardian. "Gold Medal Winning times in The Men's and Women's 100m Sprint at The Summer Olympics from 1896 to 2020 (in Seconds)." Statista, Statista Inc., 2 Aug 2021, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1090316/olympics-100m-gold-medal-times-since-1896/
olympic.org & The Guardian, Gold medal winning times in the Men's and Women's 100m Sprint at the Summer Olympics from 1896 to 2020 (in seconds) Statista, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1090316/olympics-100m-gold-medal-times-since-1896/ (last visited January 26, 2022)