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Page last updated at 14:53 GMT, Thursday, 13 May 2010 15:53 UK

Can Tyson Gay break Smith's record in Manchester?

14 May: Diamond League first meeting, Doha 1700-1900 BST live on BBC Red Button and BBC Sport website (UK users only); coverage on BBC Radio 5 live

15 May: Michael Johnson meets Usain Bolt: The Fastest Man Who Has Ever Lived 1710 BST on BBC Two

16 May: Great Manchester Run and Great City Games 1000-1130 BST and 1630-1800 BST live on BBC Two and BBC Sport website (UK users only); updates on BBC Radio 5 live

19 May: Usain Bolt's season debut at Daegu Pre-Championships, South Korea 1055-1345 BST live on BBC Red Button (UK users only)

Tyson Gay is aiming for Tommie Smith's 44-year-old 200m record in Manchester
Gay (left) aiming to break the record of 1968 Olympic champion Smith (right)

Mark Butler
By Mark Butler
BBC Sport's athletics statistician

Remember how shocked we were by the way Michael Johnson and then Usain Bolt took such huge chunks from the world 200m record?

Well 44 years ago, an American athlete was responsible for an even bigger margin of improvement. On 7 May 1966 in San Jose, 21-year-old Tommie C. Smith covered the distance in 19.5 seconds to take half a second from the previous record.

On Sunday, at the Great City Games in Manchester, Smith will be in attendance to see Tyson Gay and others try to beat his mark on a specially-constructed track at Deansgate.

Two years after breaking that record, Smith would become the Olympic 200m champion amid well-documented controversy, but it could be argued that his 19.5, set on a cinder track, was an even greater performance.

Why I gave the 'Black Power Salute' - Tommie Smith

After 44 years "Tommie Jet" is still the world record holder, even though Johnson (19.32) and Bolt (19.19) have faster times. The reason is, of course, that Smith's 19.5 was set on a straight track.

In the 1960s, the straight 200 metres was a separate world record event for men. The sport's governing body (IAAF) has since deleted this variation from its list of official records, but no one else has run faster than Smith on a 200m straight.

On the Deansgate track last year, Bolt ran the fastest ever 150m.

When Smith ran his 19.5, it was rated as the greatest-ever performance in track and field, according to scoring tables in use at the time. It was also a double world record because there were timekeepers at both 200m and 220 yards. His time at the longer distance was also 19.5.

So how could someone clock the same time at two different distances ? Only hand timing was in use. At 200m the three timekeepers stopped their watches at 19.4, 19.5 and 19.6. At 220 yards another trio recorded times of 19.5, 19.5 and 19.6.

The rules in force at the time stated that if two or more times agreed then that time should be taken as official, but if all were different then the middle should be taken.

Following that principle, 19.5 was accepted in both cases and the 220 yard mark will definitely still stand after Manchester because Gay and Co will only be racing up to 200m.

Usain Bolt winning the 150m in Manchester

Bolt storms to victory over 150m in Manchester last year

Smith was unquestionably the finest all-round sprinter of his time. In 1966 he set world records around a bend over 200m/220y, missed the world 100m record by 0.1 sec and ran a 400m relay leg in 43.8, when no man had run faster than 44.9 from blocks. He was also a world-class long jumper.

Smith set further world records at 400m/440y in 1967 and went on to win the 1968 Olympic 200m in Mexico City with the first ever legitimate electrically-timed sub-20.

It's obvious that a sprinter can run faster down a straight than around a bend.

Bolt proved that last year when he clocked 14.35 for 150m in Manchester in May, then was timed at "only" 14.44 to that point during his epic 200m in Berlin, having run the first 100m on a curve.

When straight "furlongs" were run frequently, it was felt that we could add 0.465 to straight times to find the equivalent mark on a bend. A time of 19.50 straight would therefore be worth 19.965 on the bend.

Gay's best 200m on a bend is 19.58. If we subtract 0.465 from that we get a number less than 19.19.

So if conditions are good, there is just the possibility that Bolt's Berlin time could be bettered in Manchester.

It wouldn't be an official world record, but it would be the fastest 200m ever run, which would be quite a sight to see on the A56.

Progressive world records at men's 200m straight:

21.2 secs Bernard Wefers (USA) in New York, 30 May 1896

21.2 Ralph Craig (USA) in Philadelphia, 28 May 1910

21.2 Donald Lippincott (USA) in Cambridge, Mass, 31 May 1913

21.2 Howard Drew (USA) in Claremont, 28 Feb 1914

21.2 George Parker (USA) in Fresno, 2 Oct 1914

20.8 Charlie Paddock (USA) in Berkeley, 26 March 1921

20.8 Charlie Paddock (USA) in West Orange, 6 Sept 1924

20.6 Roland Locke (USA) in Lincoln, 1 May 1926

20.6 Ralph Metcalfe (USA) in Budapest, 12 Aug 1933

20.3 Jesse Owens (USA) in Ann Arbor, 25 May 1935

20.2 Mel Patton (USA) in Los Angeles, 7 May 1949

20.1 David Sime (USA) in Durham, NC, 11 May 1956

20.0 David Sime (USA) in Sanger, 9 June 1956

20.0 Frank Budd (USA) in Villanova, 12 May 1962

20.0 Tommie Smith (USA) in San Jose, 13 March 1965

19.5 Tommie Smith (USA) in San Jose, 7 May 1966

see also
Johnson on Bolt
13 May 10 |  Athletics
Ennis pips Ohuruogu in Manchester
16 May 10 |  Athletics
Superb Bolt storms to 150m record
17 May 09 |  Athletics
British athletes' record wait
04 May 10 |  Athletics
Britain's most successful athletes
18 Mar 10 |  Athletics
Medals, money or both?
12 Jun 09 |  Athletics
GB women show Berlin credentials
03 Jun 09 |  Athletics
When is a record not a record?
19 Feb 09 |  Athletics

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