Track and field is a sport which cements a special place in all our hearts due to the very fact that every kid growing up has at least once in their life participated in a sprinting event. Thus, growing up, there are people who get inspired at an early stage and make track and field their passion. Some of these passionate individuals go on to hold the distinction of being awarded with one of the most highest honors of a person’s life, and that is to represent their own country. These athletes have made a name for themselves and are forever etched in the history books as the greatest in their field. Here we take a look at the top 15 sprinters of all time who have achieved legendary status all over the world.
15. Hicham El Guerrouj
In 1995, Hicham El Guerrouj burst onto the scene and began his dominance after winning the world titles in 1997, 1999, 2001, and 2003. Boasting an impressive record of 83 wins from 86 finals, the Moroccon sprinter was a dominant force in the world of athletics. Sadly, two of his three losses came in the Olympics. With 430m to go in 1996, El Guerrouj was barely behind the favorite, Noureddine Morceli. El Guerrouj’s knee collided with Morceli’s heel. Morceli tripped, and El Guerrouj trod on his heel, knocking him to the ground. He finished the race but finished last. Nevertheless, his record and dominance over the course of 9 years certainly puts him on our list of top 15 sprinters of all time.
14. Haile Gebrselassie
Considered as one of the greatest runners in the history, Haile Gebrselassie hailing from Ethiopia from an early age, had the passion of running ingrained within him. Having to commute to school, he ran 10 kilometers to school each day and another 10 kilometers back home. His dedication and determination remained unmatched even after growing up. Gebrselassie was the incumbent world record holder at 10,000m and the defending world champion by Atlanta in 1996. He also shared a storied rivalry with Kenyan counterpart Paul Tergat. Their rivalry was ultimately won in a close competition which was played out in Sydney, where Gebrselassie won gold with his final stride. His other accomplishments include victories in Berlin, Fukuoka, and Dubai races and setting a world record in the distance in 2007.
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13. David Rudisha
David Rudisha is a retired Kenyan middle-distance runner who transformed the 800m dash into a game of raw strength and stamina. Earlier other runners often employed tactical methodologies in their game. However, Rudisha trampled over every tactical plan and made it a prolonged sprint to victory. He was able to shatter his own world record in London Olympics 2012 and won gold at the competition. He repeated that feat 4 years later at Rio Olympics 2016 to retain his title. This feat placed him in the record books as he was the first person to achieve this after 50 years since Peter Snell. Truly his accomplishments certainly put him on our list of top 15 sprinters of all time.
12. Wayde van Niekerk
Wayde van Niekerk shocked the world in Rio Olympics 2016 when he obliterated the 400m dash world record and set a new time at 43.03 seconds. However, a freak accident during a celebrity rugby match he was a part of nearly ended his career. He was forced to take a break for 3 years. However, he returned to the track in 2019, winning over 100m and 200m on a grass track in Bloemfontein. However, given his previous records, he was unable to cement his legacy further in the Tokyo Olympics 2021, where he was eliminated after finishing 5th in the 400m. Nonetheless, his previous accomplishments warrant a place in the list of all-time greats.
11. Bruny Surin
Inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 2008, Bruny Surin competed 4 times at the Olympics. His most notable moment came at the 1996 Olympics in the 4100m relay. He won a gold medal at the event and went on the win and set several records throughout the world. A two-time world champion in the 4x100m relay and in the 60m indoor, he remains the 7th fastest sprinter of all time. Bruny Surin speeds into our list of top 15 sprinters of all time.
10. Justin Gatlin
Justin Gatlin was considered as one of America’s finest. He was able to clock in an impressive 9.85 seconds in the 2004 Olympics 100m dash and won the gold for his country. In the same event, he went on to win bronze for the 200m dash and silver in the relay race. These achievements alone seemed enough to cement his legacy. However, in 2006 his reputation was tarnished when he received a 4-year ban for substance abuse. Gatlin’s reputation and popularity took a hit, and he seemingly faded into obscurity. However, after 4 years, Gatlin returned to the track and field, determined to make a name for himself and redeem his past. In the year of May 2015, Gatlin broke his own 100m record at the IAAF Doha Diamond League. He became the only athlete above the age of 30 to achieve a time of 9.75 seconds and became the fastest athlete in the 30s. Finishing his career at 1 Olympic gold medal and 3 World Championships, Justin Gatlin secures the 10th spot on our list of top 15 sprinters of all time.
9. Donovan Bailey
Widely regarded as the best Canadian sprinter of all time, his breakthrough came in 1996 when he won the gold medal in the 100-meter dash and set a record of 9.84 seconds.
He is the mostly well-known for his peak speed and being the first Candian sprinter to have a timing below the 10-second mark. This record held for nearly 12 years till Usain Bolt shattered it in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
8. Yohan Blake
Yohan Blake can proudly hold the distinction of being the second fastest man ever to step foot on the tracks. Behind the legendary Usain Bolt, Blake has made a name for himself quite fascinatingly to become one of the youngest athletes in the world to become a champion at the 2011 World Championships. The existence of Bolt might have been a deterrent for Blake to reach the mountain top as the fastest man alive. He holds the record of a personal best 19.26 seconds in the 200m dash, which is only milliseconds behind Usain Bolt’s record-breaking 19.19 seconds. Being the second fastest runner of all time is no easy feat, and with 1 Olympic gold (2 silvers) and 2 World Championship golds, Yohan Blake is 8th on our list.
7. Asafa Powell
Asafa Powell might be one of the most consistent runners out there. He holds the record for consistently breaking the 10-second barrier and has done it a whopping 97 times throughout his career. He won his first medal in the 4100 m relay in the Beijing Olympics, however, he had to surrender the medal after his teammate Nesta Carter was found guilty of doping. However, in the 2016 Rio Olympics, Powell finally got his long overdue medal in the same 4100 m relay. Powell has been considered by many as one of the founders of Jamaican dominance in the sport. Thus, with 1 Olympic gold and 2, World Championship gold Asafa Powell is 7th on our list of top 15 sprinters of all time.
6. Maurice Greene
Maurice Greene is well renowned in the field of athletics as one of the first in the world to clock a timing less than 9.8 seconds. His record of 9.79 seconds for a 100m dash was unimaginable at the time. He went on to win the World Championship 3 times in his career in 1997, 1999, and 2001. His Indoor World Champion record for 60m dash was unbroken for almost 20 years. Having retired in 2008 due to sustaining quadriceps and hamstring injuries, his impact in the world of athletics is unmatched. With 2 Olympic golds and 5, World Championship golds, Green places 6th on our list.
5. Tyson Gay
Tyson Gay helped the sport go mainstream with his remarkable athleticism and display, along with Bolt and Powell. Considered as one of the best sprinters in his time, he holds the record of being the second fastest along with Yohan Blake in the 100m dash. Falling behind the legendary Usain Bolt. Having won gold medals in 100m, 200m, and 4100m World Championship in 2007, there is no doubt that Tyson Gay possess a special talent in the field of athletics. Which was proven true in 2010 when he was finally able to get the better of his arch-rival Usain Bolt and win the 100m dash in Stockholm. Over the next few years, his career took a hit due to a hip injury. Again in 2013, he hit another slump, and his reputation was dragged in the mud after he failed 2 drug tests. He has, however, maintained that he was a victim of a backroom mishap.
Nonetheless, Tyson Gay was a remarkable athlete whose competition with Usain Bolt was a sight to behold. With 1 Olympic silver and 3 World Championship golds, Tyson Gay is 5th on our list of top 15 greatest sprinters of all time.
4. Jesse Owens
One of the originals, Jesse Owens, can be credited as one of the greatest athletes since the 1930s. His sheer determination and raw athletic prowess allowed him to win 4 gold medals in the 1936 Olympic games. He did everything without the availability of proper training facilities or a proper training track. His record of 10.3 seconds in the 100m dash is still to this day impressive. His determination and dedication to his trade was unmatched, and he proved it with his performance in the 1936 Olympics. Without a shadow of a doubt, Jesse Owens today, with proper training, would have been a megastar. With 3 Olympic gold medals and considering the time period he was born in, Jesse Owens is a true legend.
3. Michael Johnson
Micheal Johnson’s fame knew no bounds. We would not be wrong if we consider him to be the first athlete to take the track and field sports mainstream way back in 2000 Sydney Olympics. Previous world record holder in 200m, Johnson has been considered by many as the most consistent track and field athlete of all time. He still remains the only athlete to win both the 200m and 400m at the same Olympic Games. With a staggering 8 Championship Golds and 4 Olympic Golds, Micheal Johnson secures the 3rd place on our list.
2. Carl Lewis
Carl Lewis is no stranger in the world of track and field. With 9 Olympic gold medals, and one Olympic silver medal, Carl Lewis is unmatched in terms of world championships and medals. Holding the distinction of being one of the 3 athletes of all time to win a gold medal for the same individual event in four consecutive Olympic Games. A frightening consistency and variation showed by Carl Lewis is phenomenal. Carl Lewis also has a world record in the long jump which he set in the 1984 Olympics. The record still stands to this day. A pioneer of the generation, Carl Lewis is 2nd on our list with 9 Olympic golds and 6 World Championship golds.
1. Usain Bolt
We would be lying if we say that as soon as we decided on the top sprinters of all time, Usain Bolt popped up in all our heads at the same time. There is absolutely nothing left for Usain Bolt to accomplish in the field. Hailing from Jamaica, Usain Bolt has broken numerous records in the 100m, 200m, and the 4100m relay races. He remains the only sprinter in the history to win gold medals for 3 consecutive editions of the Olympics (2008, 2012, and 2016). Usain Bolt, when he burst onto the scene in the 2008 Olympics for the general audience, shocked everyone with his speed. The inhuman speed he possessed single-handedly made the track and field sport into a mainstream sporting event. Coincidentally he is even named Bolt, as if the gods had already decided his contribution in the world to bring joy and be the greatest sprinter the world had ever seen.
Nicknamed the “Lightning Bolt”, with 8 Olympic golds and 11 World Championships, without a trace of doubt, Usain Bolt is the greatest sprinter to have ever lived.