Top 10 Best World Records at the Olympics

It’s amazing how much power the mind has over the body—when an old record is broken, the new world record gives another generation of Olympic athletes a standard to beat. So even if it seems as if we’ll eventually reach a ceiling for world records and max out our body, there’ll always be someone else who will try to beat it. And they’ll eventually succeed

Alexander Karelin

He’s a Russian super heavy weight Greco-Roman wrestler and he’s universally known as the greatest heavyweight wrestler to ever live. 

He was so dominant that it led to his competition and the world’s media nicknaming him “The Experiment,” implying that someone like him couldn’t have come about naturally, and that he was some sort of Russian science experiment.

He was in the Olympics four separate times and won gold medals three of those times and silver once.  He is the only three-time gold medal winner in his sport.  He was undefeated for 13 years straight and went 10 years in a row without allowing even a single point to be scored against him.

Bob Beamon’s 29 feet and 2 1/2-inch long jump

U.S. Olympian Bob Beamon set a long jump distance record at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City that has yet to be broken in Olympic competition. For perspective, 23 years passed before Beamon’s mark was out-jumped by Mike Powell, who notched a world record leap of 29 feet and 4 1/4 inches at the World Championships in Athletics in Tokyo in 1991. This was not an Olympic jump, however. And on that note — the furthest long jump at the 2012 London Games was made by Great Britain’s Greg Rutherford, who managed a relatively paltry 27 feet and three inches.

Michael Phelps’ 18 gold medals

Phelps also known as “The Baltimore Bullet” collected six gold and two bronze medals in the pool at the 2004 Games in Athens, Greece; eight gold medals at the 2008 Games in Beijing, China; and four gold and two silver medals at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, UK. After the 2012 games Phelps retired but later came out of retirement to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where he won five gold medals and one silver.

Eighteen gold medals in three Olympics. That’s six golds per cycle and quite possibly more in the offing in Rio. The next closest Olympian to Phelps’ mark is Soviet(!) gymnast Larisa Latynina, who chalked up nine golds for the Soviets in the 1950s and 1960s. Her 18 total medals come the closest to challenging Phelps’ 22 overall Olympic medals. So yeah, the only person breaking Phelps’ gold count is Phelps

Ian Millar’s 10 consecutive Olympic appearances

In 2012, the then 65-year-old Canadian equestrian rider Ian Millar set an Olympic record by making his 10th appearance in the Olympic Games — a streak that began back in 1972, at the ill-fated Summer Games in Munich. Only two other Olympians have made nine appearances: 53-year-old Slovenian sharpshooter Rajmond Debevec, who has eight games under his belt but did not receive a bid for a ninth appearance in Rio. Ironically, Millar will not be making his 11th Olympic appearance in Rio due to an injury to his horse that will require surgery.

Florence Griffith-Joyner’s 10.62 second 100-meter dash

I believe this one will go down, eventually. But until it does, Florence Griffith-Joyner’s 10.62 100-meter dash time is the unbreakable Rock of Gibraltar in women’s sprinting. Set at the 1988 Games in Seoul, Flo-Jo’s best non-wind-aided time of 10.62 has only been swiped at in Olympic competition. The next closest bid for the women’s 100-meter Olympic throne came from Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who ran a 10.75 in London in 2012. If anyone’s going to pass the late great Flo-Jo in the next couple years, it’s Fraser-Pryce or 17-year-old phenom Candace Hill, who ran a 10.98 at the age of 16 last year.

13-year-old U.S. diver Marjorie Gestring wins gold

Thirteen years old. Thirteen. American diver Marjorie Gestring won gold in the three-meter spring board three years before most of us could drive a car, and she did so while competing in front of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party at the Berlin Olympics in 1936. Think about that the next time you celebrate an egg hatching in Pokemon Go.

1995 – The British Kangaroo

Triple jump, men – Jonathan Edwards – 18.29 metres

It doesn’t always take a large margin to create a new record, a notion well understood by British triple jumper Jonathan Edwards. On July 18, 1995, Edwards broke the mark of 17.97 metres held by American Willie Banks by a single centimetre. He then confirmed his dominance of the event by twice beating his own world record in the following weeks. At the world championships in Gothenburg, Sweden on August 7, he became the first to surpass 18 metres, leaping 18.16 on his first attempt in the final. He did even better on his second attempt, setting the current mark at 18.29 metres to finish 67cm ahead of the runner-up. In the 22 years since, the closest challenger to the world record has been Christian Taylor who jumped 18.21 metres at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing.

2003 – Marathon Woman

Marathon, women – Paula Radcliffe – 2:15:25

During the London Marathon on April 13, 2003, British home favourite Paula Radcliffe set the women’s marathon world record when she covered the 42.195km course in 2 hours, 15 minutes and 25 seconds. It broke her previous world record, set just six months earlier in Chicago, by almost two minutes. In 2011, Radcliffe was in danger of losing her record when the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) ruled that women’s records needed to be set in women-only races. In the 2003 London Marathon, Radcliffe had followed male pacemakers. But there was such an outcry over her remarkable time being reduced to a “world best” that the IAAF reversed its decision and kept the world record on the books. At the London Marathon in April 2017, Kenya’s Mary Keitany ran 2:17:01 to set the world record in a women-only race.

The Fastest Man on Earth

100m and 200m, men – Usain Bolt – 9.58 seconds and 19.19 seconds

Usain Bolt crosses the finish line to setting a new World Record as he wins the Men’s 200m final during the World Athletics Championships in Berlin, 2009 (AP Photo/David J. Pillip, File)

One can’t write about athletics’ world records without mentioning the fastest man on earth, Usain Bolt. The Jamaican sprinter has held the world records in both the 100 metres (9.58 seconds) and 200 metres (19.19 seconds) since the 2009 World Championships in Berlin. It was the third time Bolt had lowered the 100m mark, taking an incredible 0.11 of a second off the time he had run to win gold at Beijing 2008. He dropped the same amount of time from the 200m world record he had also run at the Olympic Games the year prior. Can he go even faster? Is 9.40 seconds in the 100m possible? He’ll take one more shot at it at the world championships in London in August.

2012 – Breaking an Unbreakable Record

4x100m relay, women – Tianna Madison, Allyson Felix, Bianca Knight, Carmelita Jeter – 40.82 seconds

The women’s 4x100m record set at London 2012 by Team USA runners Tianna Madison, Allyson Felix, Bianca Knight, and Carmelita Jeter had a big impact on the history of the women’s 4x100m relay as it erased a world record that dated back to October 6, 1985. The quartet took more than half a second off the mark set by an East German foursome at a meet in Canberra, Australia that had been one of the longest-standing running records on the track. It had also been a record looked at with much suspicion since the athletics world became aware of systematic state-sponsored doping by East Germany in the 1980s.

2014 – Czar Dethroned

Pole vault, men – Renaud Lavillenie – 6.16 metres

In 1984, Sergei Bubka had already broken the pole vault world record three times when he met up with the last man to hold the global standard, Frenchman Thierry Vigneron, in Rome on August 31. For just a few moments, Vigneron reclaimed the world record at 5.91 metres, only to see Bubka soar 5.94 metres. That was the last time that anyone other than Bubka would hold the world record for three decades. In July 1985, the Ukrainian became the first to clear 6 metres. Over the years, he kept pushing the bar to new heights, eventually reaching 6.14 metres in July 1994 with his 17th world record. Twenty years later, along came another Frenchman, Renaud Lavillenie. Competing in Bubka’s home country, he amazed the athletics world with his vault of 6.16 metres.

2014 – Fastest Official Marathon

Marathon, men – Dennis Kimetto – 2:02:57

Dennis Kimetto from Kenya poses for media after the winners ceremony of the 41st Berlin Marathon in Berlin, Germany, 2014. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

It was at the 2014 Berlin Marathon that Kenya’s Dennis Kipruto Kimetto completed the 42.195km race in 2 hours 2 minutes 57 seconds to become the first marathoner to ever break the 2 hour 3 minute barrier on a record-eligible course. Six of the 10 fastest marathons in history that are recognized by the IAAF have been run in Berlin.

For those who missed it, it is possible to watch the entire experiment here.

Genzebe Dibaba reaches the unreacheable

 1500m, women – Genzebe Dibaba – 3:50.07

Genzebe Dibaba is another athletic icon who erased a mark that was long seen as unbeatable. At 24 years old, during the IAAF Diamond League event on July 17, 2015, in Monaco, Dibaba established the new world record in the 1500m with a time of 3:50.07. Every 100 metres, she kept or even surpassed her pace to beat the previous record of 3:50.46 which had been established in 1993 by China’s Qu Yunxia. If the race is a matter of rhythm, well the Ethiopian certainly controls the music since she delivered one of the most impressive performances in women’s athletics for the last 12 years.

1991 — Powell-Lewis Clash

Long jump, men – Mike Powell – 8.95 metres

For 23 years, no one had been able to touch Bob Beamon’s long jump record of 8.90 metres that he had set in the thin air at Mexico City 1968. But that all changed on August 30, 1991. In the world championship final in Tokyo, Carl Lewis and Mike Powell produced perhaps the greatest long jump competition ever. After Lewis jumped 8.91 metres on his fourth attempt, albeit wind-aided, Powell followed up with a wind-legal 8.95 metre effort on his fifth attempt, setting a record that has now stood longer than Beamon’s. In the years since, the closest anyone has come is the 8.74 metres jumped by Erick Walder in April 1994 and Dwight Phillips in June 2009.

1992 – Hurdles No Obstacle for “Spiderman”

400m hurdles, men – Kevin Young – 46. 79 seconds

Kevin Young had finished fourth in the 400m hurdles at both the 1988 Olympic Games and the 1991 World Championships but was ready for his breakout moment at Barcelona 1992. He had worked to fix his stride pattern to avoid late-race fatigue. In the Olympic final, he had everything working for him and was quickly clear of the field, crossing the finish line in 46.78 seconds. He was the first 400m hurdler to clock a time under 47 seconds and broke the mark that had been set by the legendary Edwin Moses in 1983. As a point of comparison, the top time in the 400m hurdles at Rio 2016 was 47.73 seconds by another American, Kerron Clement.

1993 — Sotomayor Soars in Salamanca

High jump, men – Javier Sotomayor – 2.45 metres

For 24 years and counting, Javier Sotomayor has been holding the high jump world record. It was in July 1993 in Salamanca, Spain that the leggy Cuban jumped over the bar set at 2.45 metres, succeeding in his second attempt at the height. It was in that same place five years earlier that he had first set the world record at 2.43 metres, but then was unable to compete at Seoul 1988 due to his country’s boycott. In July 1989 he had been the first man to clear 8 feet with his metric jump of 2.44 metres. He finally made his Olympic debut at Barcelona 1992 where he won the gold medal. As a sign of his dominance, consider that there are 12 men in history, including Canada’s Derek Drouin, who have combined to clear 2.40 metres 41 times. Sotomayor has done it 17 of those times. Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim has come closest to matching the world record, leaping 2.43 metres in September 2014.

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