This Week in History: 10 Second Barrier for the 100m Broken

This week, almost fifty years ago, Jim Hines became the first person in recorded history to run the 100-metre sprint in under 10 seconds.

With modern day sprinters regularly completing 100 metres in under 10 seconds, it’s almost surprising to see that just a few decades ago it was rarely seen. In fact, before 1990, the number of men that had run the 100m in less than 10 seconds was a paltry eight. And on the night of October 14th, 1968, in the midst of the Mexico City Summer Olympics, the official number was 0.


However, as Hines and the other sprinters lined up on the starting track, there were a couple of reasons to believe that this was about to change. The first was that, because Mexico City was over 7,000 feet above sea level, the air was considerably thinner. Although this was harmful for the longer track events, it worked wonders for the shorter ones. And the second was that Hines had already managed the distance in 9.9 seconds at the US national championships earlier that year. Unfortunately for him, this was only according to the manual timing. The electronic timing on the other hand, the more accurate measure of the two, put him three-hundredths of a second over the fabled 10-second barrier.

That wouldn’t prove to be an issue in Mexico though. Surrounded by thousands of fans from all around the world and with the hopes of millions resting on his shoulders, he romped home in 9.95 seconds, winning the race in a time that wouldn’t be beaten for 15 years. For the first time in history, the milestone had been officially broken.


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