This Day In History: August 16

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On August 16, 2009, under the lights of Berlin’s Olympic Stadium at the World Championships, 22-year-old Usain Bolt strikes a lightning-bolt pose and grins before taking his mark. Then the Jamaican, already the fastest man in the world, shatters his own world record in the 100-meter dash, winning the event in 9.58 seconds. He becomes the first to run the event in less than 9.6 seconds. 

Bolt’s time of 9.69 at the 2008 Beijing Olympics was not only a world record, but also the first time the 100-meter dash had been run in under 9.7 seconds. Bolt's stunning speed and laid-back, playful personality made him an international celebrity in the wake of his Olympic gold, but observers noted that he had not finished his race in Beijing at full speed. Soon, many speculated, Bolt could shatter his own world record.

It happened the next year, in the same stadium where trailblazing sprinter Jesse Owens had covered himself in glory at the 1936 Olympics. After sailing through the preliminary heats, Bolt lined up for the 100-meter final alongside Tyson Gay, an American sprinter considered his main challenger at the time. On Gay’s other side was Bolt’s countryman, Asafa Powell—together, they were the three fastest men in the world. 

Although his starts were considered a weakness, Bolt started strongly and got better over the course of the sprint. Even as Gay ran the race of his life, finishing in 9.71 seconds, Bolt pulled away from him, winning by more than a meter. As an exuberant Bolt continued running along the curve of the track, thumping his chest and receiving adulation from the crowd, his official time was announced.

Afterward, Bolt said he could run even faster, perhaps even 9.4. He retired after the 2017 World Championships without reaching that mark, but his 100-meter world record endures.