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Sunday, 15 September, 2002, 13:12 GMT 14:12 UK
Glory returns to the 100m
The evolution of the record (from left): Carl Lewis, the controversial Ben Johnson, Donovan Bailey, Maurice Greene, Tim Montgomery
Montgomery (right) tops the list of 100m record holders

The men's 100m world record is more than a benchmark.

It holds a unique place in sport as its holder can claim not only to be the best at his discipline, but the fastest man on earth.

Yet for an event which ought to be absolute and indisputable, its history has been shrouded in controversy.

Tim Montgomery's astounding 9.78 seconds in Paris on Saturday should - hopefully forever - lift the cloud over the 100m.

To understand the controversy one needs to rewind to the 1968 Mexico Olympics, effectively when the modern age of sprinting began.

Prior to those games, sprint timings were calculated using a stopwatch which recorded to the nearest tenth of a second.

Ben Johnson at the start of the 1988 Olympic 100m final
Ben Johnson casts a long shadow over the 100m

That was far too vague for an event which was increasingly dealing with tiny fractions of a second.

Enter American Jim Hines, who already had a hand-timed world record of 9.9secs.

In the final in Mexico, he took on the considerably more accurate electronic timing and proved his time was no fluke, running 9.95 for Olympic gold.

The modern age of sprinting had arrived, but Hines record - like so many set at Mexico - was coloured by the fact it was set at altitude.

There was never a question that he used chemical assistance - but the sprint and long jump records of 1968 were so far ahead of anything being achieved at sea level, they would not be broken for many years.

  Men's athletics records set at Mexico 1968
100m - 9.95s
Jim Hines - stood for 15 years
200m - 19.83s
Tommie Smith - 11 years
400m - 43.86s
Lee Evans - 29 years
400m hurdles - 48.12s
David Hemery - 4 years
4x100m - 38.19s
USA - 9 years
4x400m - 2:56.16
USA - 24 years
Long jump - 8.90m
Bob Beamon- 23 years
Triple jump - 17.39m
Viktor Sanyeyev - 3 years

American Calvin Smith finally ran faster than Hines in 1983, although his time of 9.93 was set at the Air Force Academy - 1800m above sea level.

Four years later, Carl Lewis would match Smith's time in Rome, proving such performances were possible at sea level.

But the late 1980s saw the events which would both re-write the record books - and see them discredited.

The 1988 Seoul Olympics saw Lewis run 9.92.

Fine - except the American legend was more than two metres behind Canadian winner Ben Johnson, who ran a barely-conceivable 9.79.

In 100m sprinting, where a fraction of a second can make a massive difference on the track, Johnson's effort was flabbergasting.

Imagine if Roger Bannister, in breaking the four-minute mile barrier, had himself been beaten by someone running three minutes 30 seconds.

Maurice Greene
Mo Greene held the world record for three years

Suspicions abounded and after Johnson was found to be using anabolic steroids, his world record and gold medal were stripped and awarded to Lewis.

That brought to the fore a great rivalry between Lewis and Leroy Burrell who exchanged records during the next six years.

Burrell clocked 9.90 in 1991, only for Lewis to run 9.86 later the same year. That held until 1994 when Burrell shaved one one-hundredth of a second off Lewis' time.

Then came Canadian Donovan Bailey, restoring dignity to athletics in his country by running 9.84 in 1996.

Bailey's record preceded the era of Maurice Greene, whose dominance of the men's sprint culminated in his 9.79 in Athens in July 1999.

Yet until Saturday, the shadow of Johnson still hung over the 100m.

Because, despite his narcotic assistance, it was still indisputable that Johnson had run 9.79, and was the fastest man in history - even if his times had been expunged from the records.

Now Montgomery, running drug free and at sea level, has beaten Johnson's time, and erased the spectre of the Canadian.

Once again, the 100m record holder is truly the fastest man on earth.

Tim Montgomerie's new 100m world record stands at 9.78s

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