Olympic records in sprint events - Usain Bolt, Florence Griffith Joyner jewels in the crown
Since its inception, athletics events have always been the central attraction of the Olympics.
At Tokyo 2020, a total of 48 athletics events (24 for men, 23 for women and one mixed) were on the agenda – one more than Rio 2016. A mixed team 4x400m relay event joined the Olympic athletics programme at Tokyo.
As always, the sprint events – 100m, 200m, 400m, hurdles and relays - were the biggest draws at the recently-concluded Summer Games.
Over the years, several iconic sprinters have made their mark in these disciplines. However, a handful of them – holders of the coveted Olympic records in each discipline – stand out as the best among the best.
Here’s a list of all Olympic sprint records.
100m Olympic records
Usain Bolt (Jamaica) - 9.63s at 2012 London Olympics (August 5, 2012)
Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt first took possession of the men’s 100m Olympic record at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, clocking 9.69s to beat Canadian runner Donovan Bailey’s 9.84s time set at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
At the 2012 London Olympics, Usain Bolt bettered his own record by 0.06 seconds to set a new Olympic record.
Elaine Thompson-Herah (Jamaica) - 10.61s at 2020 Tokyo Olympics (July 31, 2021)
Jamaican sprinter Elaine Thompson-Herah successfully defended her women’s 100m crown at Tokyo 2020 after clocking 10.61 seconds in the final.
Not only was the time 0.10 seconds faster than her Rio finish, it also broke the long-standing Olympic record of 10.62 seconds held by US sprint legend Florence Griffith Joyner since the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
FloJo’s record run at Seoul was in the quarter-finals. The US sprinter did improve her timing to 10.54s in the finals to bag the gold medal, but that didn’t count as a record as it was a wind-aided run.
200m Olympic records
Usain Bolt (Jamaica) - 19.30s at 2008 Beijing Olympics (August 20, 2008)
Usain Bolt’s 19.30s run in the 2008 Beijing Olympics final saw him break legendary US sprinter Michael Johnson’s Olympic and world record of 19.32s from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
The Jamaican’s Beijing run stood as the 200m world record until Bolt himself broke it with a 19.19s dash at the 2009 world championships in Berlin. However, his Beijing effort is still the Olympic 200m record.
Florence Griffith Joyner (USA) - 21.34s at 1988 Seoul Olympics (September 29, 1988)
Just five days after setting the 100m Olympic record in Seoul, FloJo was at it again, this time in the 200m.
She clocked 21.76s in the quarter-finals, breaking countrywoman Valerie Brisco-Hooks’ Olympic record of 21.81s from the 1984 Olympics finals.
Joyner shed 0.20s from her quarter-final timing in the semis to usurp the previous world record of 21.71s held jointly by East German sprinters Heike Drechsler and Marita Koch.
In the finals, her gold medal-winning run of 21.34s stands as both the Olympic and world records today.
400m Olympic records
Wayde van Niekerk (South Africa) – 43.03s at 2016 Rio Olympics (August 14, 2016)
Heading into Rio 2016, US ace Michael Johnson held both the men’s 400m Olympic record (43.49s set at 1996 Atlanta) and world record (43.18s at the 199 world championships in Sevilla).
Both records, however, changed hands after South African athlete Wayde van Niekerk’s incredible 43.03s gold medal-winning run in the Rio 2016 men’s 400m final.
Marie-Jose Perec (France) – 48.25s at 1996 Atlanta Olympics (July 29, 1996)
From 1980 to 1988, the Olympic record in women’s 400m was broken in each of the three finals.
At Barcelona 1992, though, France’s Marie-Jose Perec won the 400m gold with a timing of 48.83s but couldn’t beat 1988 Seoul Olympics champion Olha Bryzhina’s standing record of 48.65s.
The Frenchwoman, though, wouldn’t be denied a second time at the 1996 Atlanta Games. Not only did Marie-Jose Perec successfully retain her 400m title, but she also set the new record with a 48.25s run. The record has stood firm since.
110m hurdles Olympic record (men only)
Liu Xiang (China) – 12.91s at 2004 Athens Olympics (August 27, 2004)
In what was China’s first-ever men's Olympic gold medal in a track and field event, Liu Xiang completed the 110m finals at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Not only did it earn Xiang the historic gold, but also put him in joint-possession of the world record at the time with Britain’s Colin Jackson. The world record has passed hands since, but no one has been able to topple Xiang’s timing at the Olympics.
100m hurdles Olympic record (women only)
Jasmine Camacho-Quinn (Puerto Rico) - 12.26s at 2020 Tokyo Olympics (August 1, 2021)
Puerto Rico’s Jasmine Camacho-Quinn ran her course in just 12.26 seconds in the semi-finals of the Tokyo 2020 100m hurdles event to break Australian Sally Pearson’s previous record of 12.35s set at the 2012 London Olympics finals.
Quinn’s timing of 12.37 seconds in the Tokyo 2020 final wasn’t quite as impressive as her semi-final run but was enough to win her the gold medal.
400m hurdles Olympic records
Men’s 400m hurdles
Karsten Warholm (Norway) - 45.94s at 2020 Tokyo Olympics (August 3, 2021)
In the Tokyo 2020 men’s 400m hurdles finals, Norway’s Karsten Warholm clocked 45.94s to clinch the gold. It was enough to usurp the existing Olympic record holder Kevin Young’s 46.78s run at Barcelona 1992 and also helped Warholm better his own world record of 46.70s.
Women’s 400m hurdles
Sydney McLaughlin (USA) - 51.46s at 2020 Tokyo Olympics (August 4, 2021)
USA’s Sydney McLaughlin overtook Jamaican Melaine Walker’s previous record (52.64s from Beijing 2008) en route to the gold at Tokyo 2020. McLaughlin also rewrote her own world record of 51.90s with the run.
4×100m relay Olympic records
Men’s relay race
Nesta Carter, Michael Frater, Yohan Blake, Usain Bolt (Jamaica) – 36.84s at 2012 London Olympics (August 9, 2012)
After the iconic US team of Michael Marsh, Leroy Burrell, Dennis Mitchell and Carl Lewis held the Olympic relay race record (37.40s from 1992 Barcelona) for two decades, the Jamaican quartet handily beat it at London 2012.
It also helped Nesta Carter, Michael Frater, Yohan Blake and Usain Bolt break their own world record of 37.04s from a year earlier. Both records still stand.
Women’s relay race
Tianna Madison, Allyson Felix, Bianca Knight, Carmelita Jeter (USA) – 40.82s at 2012 London Olympics (August 10, 2012)
The US relay team’s world record-setting timing of 40.82s from the London 2012 finals erased the erstwhile East Germany of both records.
Both records were held by East German teams since the 1980s.
4x400m relay Olympic records
Men’s 4x400m relay
LaShawn Merritt, Angelo Taylor, David Neville, Jeremy Wariner (USA) – 2:55.39s at 2008 Beijing Olympics (August 23, 2008)
USA’s LaShawn Merritt, Angelo Taylor, David Neville and Jeremy Wariner beat the long-standing 4x400m relay record held by another American team featuring Andrew Valmon, Quincy Watts, Michael Johnson and Steve Lewis since 1992.
Merritt, Taylor, Neville and Warnier beat the previous record by 0.35 seconds.
Women’s 4x400m relay
Tatyana Ledovskaya, Olga Nazarova, Mariya Pinigina, Olga Bryzgina (Soviet Union) – 3:15.17s at 1988 Seoul Olympics (October 1, 1988)
The team from the erstwhile undivided Soviet Union set both the Olympic and world records at Seoul. Both 4x400m relay records are still intact.
The previous Olympic record (3:18.29s at 1984 LA) was in possession of USA’s Lillie Leatherwood, Denean Howard, Valerie Brisco-Hooks and Chandra Cheeseborough.
Meanwhile, East Germany’s Gesine Walther, Sabine Busch, Dagmar Rübsam and Marita Koch were holders of the previous world record (3:15.92s) since 1984.
Mixed team 4x400m relay
Karol Zalewski, Natalia Kaczmarek, Justyna Święty-Ersetic, Kajetan Duszyński (Poland) – 3:09.87s at 2020 Tokyo Olympics (July 31, 2021)
With the event making its Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020, Poland’s Karol Zalewski, Natalia Kaczmarek, Justyna Święty-Ersetic and Kajetan Duszyński bagged the mixed team 4x400m relay Olympic record with a gold medal-winning 3:09.87s run in the finals.
The Dominican Republic team of Lidio Andrés Feliz, Marileidy Paulino, Anabel Medina and Alexander Ogando clinched silver in 3:10.21s.