The Top 10 Greatest Sprinters of All Time


The greatest race at the Olympic Games is the simplest. Eight lines, eight runners, and all they have to do is cross the line faster than the rest.

For elite sprinters, it takes mere seconds to cover those distances.

So, who are the greatest sprinters of all time?

Top 10 Greatest Sprinters of All Time

Usain Bolt

  • Olympic gold: 8
  • 100m: 9.58s
  • 200m: 19.19s
  • 400m: 45.28s
  • 4 x 100m: 36.84s

The retired Jamaican sprinter first gained notice after his gold medal-winning performance at the 2002 world junior championships when he became the youngest-ever male world junior champion in any event at 15 years.

He later went on to break many records and currently holds the 100 m record, which he broke in 2009 at the Berlin 2009 World Athletics Championships. His time of 9.58 seconds saw him reach an astonishing 44.72km/h.

Carl Lewis

photo source: usopm
  • Olympic gold: 9
  • 100m: 9.86s
  • 200m: 19.75s
  • 300m: 32.18s
  • 4 x 100m: 37.40s

Carl Lewis is one of the top Olympic sprinters and long jumpers, which is also one of the most popular sports at the Olympics

Lewis topped the world rankings in 100 m, 200 m, and long jump events for nearly a decade in the 1980s and set numerous world records, including the world record in the indoor long jump, which still stands since 1984. 

He recorded a total of 65 consecutive victories in the long jump, which remains one of the longest undefeated streaks in the sport’s history. 

The American sprinter also broke 20 seconds for the 200 m ten times and 10 seconds for the 100 m fifteen times in his career.

Jesse Owens

photo source: time
  • Olympic gold: 4
  • 100m: 10.2s
  • 200m:  20.7s
  • 300m:/
  • 4 x 100m: 39.8s

One of the most famous American sprinters of all time, Jesse Owens, rose to fame after winning four gold medals at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany; 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay, and long jump.

His performance also spilled over into the world of politics and Owens was credited with crushing Adolf Hilter’s myth of ‘Aryan supremacy’.

In recognition of his career, the USA Track and Field introduced the Jesse Owens Award, the highest annual accolade for the best track and field athlete. 

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Michael Johnson

  • Olympic gold: 4 
  • 100m: 10.09s
  • 200m: 19.32s
  • 300m: 30.85s
  • 4 x 100m: /

Michael Johnson was way ahead of his time with tracking and field – literally and metaphorically. 

One of the greatest sprinters of all time, Johnson has held the record in the 200 m, 300 m, and 400 m. 

He is the only male athlete in Olympic history to win both the 400 m and 200 m at the same event, which he managed to do at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, and is the only man to successfully defend his title in the 400 m at the 200 Summer Olympics in Sydney. 

Tyson Gay

  • Olympic gold: /
  • 100m: 9.69s
  • 200m: 19.58s
  • 300m: /
  • 4 x 100m: 37.38s

Known as one of the best sprinters in the world, Gay has plenty of accolades attached to his name, including World Athelte of the Year, two Jesse Owens Awards, and two ESPY Awards.

He currently holds the American record for the fastest time in 100 m, which makes him the second fastest athlete over 100 m, alongside Jamaican runner Yohan Blake.

Gay is also the only athlete who has clocked the fastest non-wnning time in the history of 100 m at the 2009 World Championship (9.71 seconds), where he won a silver medal. 

Maurice Greene

photo source: eurosport
  • Olympic gold: 2
  • 100m: 9.79s
  • 200m: 19.86s
  • 300m: /
  • 4 x 100m: 37.59s

Maurice Greene is best known for his former 100 m world record with a time of 9.79 seconds

During the height of his career, Greene won five World Championship titles and four Olympic medals. This includes the three medals he won at the 1999 World Championship, a feat that had only been previously achieved by Michael Johnson and Carl Lewis.

Greene retired in 2008 after a series of injuries which started in 2001 and affected his performance. That said, Greene still managed to get a bronze and silver in the spring relay at the 2004 Summer Olympics.

Asafa Powell

  • Olympic gold: 1
  • 100m: 9.72s
  • 200m: 19.90s
  • 300m: /
  • 4 x 100m: 37.27s

Asafa Powell is one of the most famous sprinters in the world, who currently holds the world record for the 100-yard dash.

The Jamaican sprinter, who specialises in 100 m races, has set a world record twice: Once in June 2005 and once in May 2008 with times of 9.77 and 9.74 seconds respectively.

Throughout his career, Powell regularly broke the 10-second barrier in competition and his personal best of 9.71 seconds puts him in the fourth place of all-time best of men’s 100-metre athletes. 

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Yohan Blake

  • Olympic gold: 2
  • 100m: 9.69s
  • 200m: 19.26s
  • 300m: /
  • 4 x 100m: 36.84s

Yohan Blake is one of the top sprinters in the world and, arguably, the best Jamaican sprinter that’s active in the sport. He holds the Jamaican national junior record for the 100 m and is the youngest sprinter to break the 10-second barrier.

Blake is the second fastest man ever in over 100 m, a title he jointly holds with Tyson Gay, with a personal best time of 9.96 seconds that he ran in August 2012. 

Finally, his times of 19.44 seconds in 200 m and 9.75 seconds in 100 m are the fastest times in Olympic sprint history that haven’t won a gold medal.

Donovan Bailey

  • Olympic gold: 2
  • 100m: 9.84s
  • 200m: 20.42s
  • 300m: /
  • 4 x 100m: 37.69s

Bailey is the first man in history to be Olympic champion, world champion, and world record holder at the same time.

He’s also the only athlete that has been inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame twice and the first Canadian to legally break the 10-second barrier.

The Canadian-Jamaican sprinter held the record for the 100 m for some time at one point during his career, after he recorded a time of 9.84 seconds at the 1996 Olympic Games. At that same event, Bailey ran 12.10 ms, the fastest ever recorded by a human.

He eventually retired in 2001 and has since worked as a commentator and been involved in different charity organisations.

Justin Gatlin

  • Olympic gold: 1
  • 100m: 9.74s
  • 200m: 19.57s
  • 300m: 42.32s
  • 4 x 100m: 37.10s

Over a career that spanned two decades, Gatlin has seen the highs and lows of track and field athletics. 

Despite being a controversial character in the sport, due to the bans he had received in the sport, he was incredibly successful on the track. His personal best of 9.74 seconds ranks fifth on the all-time list of 100-metre athletes in the male category.

Gatlin is the most-medalled 100 m runner ever at championships, and even after the bans in 2001 and 2006, he managed to break the 100 m world record, which was later annulled.

Bottom Line

The greatest sprinters of all time boast many medals and accolades under their belt. 

For now, Usain Bolt remains the fastest athlete, but there are plenty of athletes in history that have made their mark on the sport and just as many up-and-coming runners that are yet to show what they’ve got.

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