On May 31, 2008, in New York City, Usain Bolt ran into the history books, posting a 100m time of 9.72 to beat the existing world record by 0.02 seconds. Then 22, this was Bolt’s first world record, but it was just the start of his time at the top of the world of track. In the following nine years, he proceeded to lower his own 100m world record on multiple occasions, break the 200m world record and win many world and Olympic gold medals. Bolt accomplished so much in his career, and since it would take too long to list each of his successes, here are the top five moments from his time in the sport.
The first of many
A runner’s first world record has to be one of the most important of his career, regardless of how much faster he ended up running later on. Bolt eventually ran much faster than he did on May 31, 2008, but his 9.72 performance in NYC is the moment everything in his life changed. For the first few years of his career, Bolt was more focused on the longer 200m and 400m races, and his first-ever 100m run didn’t come until 2007, when he ran 10.03 seconds at a race in Greece.
— Usain St. Leo Bolt (@usainbolt) May 31, 2021
In 2008, he continued to pursue the 100m, leaving behind the 400m, and in just the third race of his career, he ran 9.76 seconds, which was the second-fastest result in history at that time. He arrived in NYC to race in his fifth 100m ever, and although he was inexperienced, he charged to the world record, beating fellow Jamaican Asafa Powell‘s mark of 9.74.
Later that same year, Bolt competed at the Beijing Olympics. He had raced at the Olympics before, four years earlier, but hadn’t made it out of the 200m heats. It was a different story in 2008, and Bolt not only won gold in the 100m and 200m, but he also broke the world records in both events. In the 100m, Bolt became the first man to break 9.70, crossing the line in 9.69 seconds (even after beginning his celebration well before the race was over).
A few days later, Bolt lined up in the 200m, which he won in 19.30 seconds, beating Michael Johnson‘s 12-year-old world record of 19.32. While he already owned the 100m world record going into the Games that summer, his runs in Beijing were how he became a household name across the globe. (Bolt also won gold in the 4 x 100m relay with Team Jamaica, but he was stripped of that medal in 2017 when his teammate Nesta Carter was found guilty of doping.)
A year after his first Olympic wins, Bolt pulled off another incredible 100m-200m double, this time at the 2009 world championships in Berlin. Yet again, Bolt not only won the two races, but he beat the world records as well. In the 100m, he made a mind-boggling jump from 9.69 seconds down to 9.58, which is still the world record today. Bolt saw a similar improvement in the 200m, lowering his 19.30-second world record to 19.19. This, too, remains the world record.
Four years after his launch into Olympic stardom in Beijing, Bolt returned to the Summer Games, this time in London, to defend his Olympic titles. He was successful, running the second- and fourth-fastest times in 100m and 200m history with wins in 9.63 seconds and 19.32 seconds. In addition to his wins in the solo events, Bolt added another gold medal to his resume with a win in the 4 x 100m relay, a race in which the Jamaicans set the world record of 36.84 seconds.
Bolt’s Olympic career began with a lacklustre performance in Athens in 2004, but his final appearance at the Games couldn’t have been any different. Instead of failing to make it out of the heats, Bolt cruised into the finals of the 100m and 200m races, and he closed out his Olympic career with a sweep of the 100m, 200m and 4 x 100m once again. Bolt won the 100m in 9.81 seconds, took the 200m in 19.78 and his Jamaican team ran away with the relay win in 37.27 seconds.