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When the first modern Olympics were held in Athens in 1896, Thomas Burke won the 100m gold medal with a time of 12 seconds. The tight curves of the track didn't make things easy for the competitors with very few world records set at the event. Burke was the only athlete to use the "crouch start" (putting his knee on the soil) maneouver, which confused the jury. Eventually, the start was allowed and accept while being labelled as an "uncomfortable position". At the same Games, he won a gold medal in the 400m event as well despite a depleted field.
Sprint racing has come a long way since then. That was the only 12-second time at an Olympics in men's 100m. The timings were reduced to 11-second range from the next Games on. In 1908, they dropped to the 10-second mark. In 1968, Jim Hines won gold with 9.95 seconds - the first sub-10 second mark. Usain Bolt shattered the previous records at the Beijing Olympics first (9.69 seconds) and London Olympics next (9.63 seconds) and this is still not the quickest in the 100m race.
In this 120-year history of the Olympic Games, the time in 100m has only gone down by 2.37 seconds despite the improvement in track quality, nutrition, shoe technology.
Such is the speed of Bolt that he would leave the rest of the Olympic gold medallists behind. If they were to race together at the 2012 London Olympics, Bolt would have crossed the finish line with Justin Gatlin 2.23 meters behind, Hines 3.22 meters behind, and Burke, the first 100m gold medallist, 19.75 meters behind.
Among the women, the progress in timings has been even smaller. When Betty Robinson won the first women's Olympic gold in 100m at the 1928 Games, she posted a time of 12.2 seconds. In 1988, Florence Griffith Joyner set the quickest time of 10.54 seconds but it came at a time when the wind speed was 3m/s. At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Elaine Thompson of Jamaica clocked 10.71 seconds.
So, in 88 years, women's timings have only gone down by 1.66 seconds. Or, 1.49 seconds if comparing like-for-like situations.
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