The Greatest 100m Runner of All Time, by Justin Clouder

Quite a subject heading, and a considerable claim to make about any athlete, especially in an event with as great a history of remarkable athletes and characters as the men's 100m.

However, among track & field historians, writers and statisticians there is remarkable agreement about the greatest male 100m runners of all time. Two names always seem to come to the top of the pile - Carl Lewis and Bob Hayes. In my view, although Lewis would rack up more "points" in terms on titles won, times run, longevity etc, there is no doubt that Bob Hayes is the most awesome sprinting force of modern times. This piece is a summary of his career highlights.

Hayes was born on 20th December 1942. He was a massive man - a fraction under 6'0" tall and over 190 lbs. He was not a classic stylist by any means - it was once written of him that "he doesn't so much run a race as beat it to death." His first sport was US Football - he won a scholarship to Florida A&M University on the back of his football prowess and after retiring from T&F went on to an equally glorious career playing for the Dallas Cowboys. Most of Hayes' sprinting was done while at college, and it was all fitted in around the college football season!

He first burst to the fore with a 100y time of 9.3 in a heat of the NAIA in Sioux Falls on 2nd June 1961, aged 18 years 5 months. This equalled the World Record but was never ratified as 22 days later Frank Budd ran the first ever 9.2, and Hayes' mark was forgotten.

Early in 1962 (on 17th February) Hayes equalled Budd's mark with a 9.2 of his own at Coral Gables. This mark was not ratified as the starting gun was of the wrong calibre (!). On 12th May that year he ran 9.3, at the SIAC champs, a meeting for black college athletes. It was reported that the timekeepers all recorded times in the 9.0-9.1 range, but the time was rounded off to a less "inflamatory" 9.3 (the same time he had run in both heat and semi). Hayes was told by his coach that because all the timekeepers, judges and athletes were black, no-one would have believed a 9.0 or 9.1 mark and they would have been a laughing stock. Hayes went on to win the AAU title from a strong field including Harry Jerome, Paul Drayton, Ira Murchison and Frank Budd.

Also in 1962, Hayes lost the only races he would ever lose at 100m (he never lost at 100y). He ran 10.1 during a European visit in the summer of '62 but also lost very narrowly to Jerome, although some observers claimed the judges had given it to the wrong man. Hayes was also beaten earlier in the year, by Roger Sayers in the NAIA 100m final, having missed three weeks of training recovering from a virus.

1963 started with two blistering long sprint WRs - 20.5 for 200m in Pointe a Pitre on 10 February to equal the World Record, and a 20.5 for 220y (worth 20.4 for 200m) at Coral Gables on 2nd March. Following this came two landmark short sprint times. First, on 27th April, Hayes became the first man to run 100m in under 10.0, with a wind assisted 9.9 at the MSR in Walnut (beating Henry Carr and John Gilbert, both of whom ran 10.0w). Then, at the AAU in St Louis on 21st June he ran 9.1 for 100y in his semi final, the first such time ever. He repeated the time to win the final, albeit wind assisted.

1964 started with a bang, with a 9.1 for 100y and a blistering 20.1 for 220y in Coral Gables on New Year's Day. Neither was ratified as a WR because there was no wind guage. He then went indoors and ran a WR equalling 6.0 for 60y five times. Among these was a performance in New York auto timed at 5.99. It is still uncertain if this is a reliable auto time, but if it is, it has never been beaten to this day, at 55m or at 60y. Second on that day was rising star Charlie Greene, who would go on to a bronze in the 1968 OG.

Moving outdoors again, Hayes twice more ran 9.1 for 100y, at Orangeburg on 18th April and at Nashville on 2nd May. Neither was ratified as a WR - a recurring theme during Hayes career. He then won the Olympic trials 100m in 10.1 and placed third in the 200m (he gave his spot up for WR holder Henry Carr, who went on to win in Tokyo).

On to Tokyo in October, the zenith and the final act of Hayes' brief career. He breezed through the heats and quarters in 10.4 and 10.3 respectively on 14th October. The next day, at 10am, he produced an amazing semi final run of 9.91 with a 5.3m/s wind behind him. This was the first time anyone had beaten 10.00 with auto timing, and it remainded the fastest ever run until William Snoddy got on the end of an 11.2m/s wind in Dallas in 1977 and ran 9.87. No one ran faster in the Olympics (aside from Ben Johnson) until, incredibly, the three medallists in Atlanta, 32 years later!

If it is hard to fathom the quality of this run, what he achieved in the final is even more staggering. Hayes drew the inside lane for the final, and the last event before the race was the finish of the 20km walk. Remember, this was a cinder track, and the inside lane was so chewed up it had to be raked! Nevertheless, Hayes won in 10.06. He had a 0.19 gap over Cuba's Enrique Figuerola, who equalled the previous best ever auto time of 10.25 (Hary in 1960). Third was Harry Jerome, joint world record holder! This victory margin was not exceeded until Lewis won by 0.20 in 1984. The winning time was ratified as a WR equalling 10.0, which somewhat understated it.

And yet, Hayes greatest performance was yet to come. Running the last leg of the 4x100m, by the time Hayes got the baton, after Paul Drayton, Gerald Ashworth and Richard Stebbins, the USA were some 3-4m down on the field. Hayes, in the words of one observer, "exploded down the track in an eruption of speed never witnessed before or since." He blew past the field in 30-40m and went on to cross the line some 3m clear in a new WR of 39.0. He had taken 6-8m out of some of the finest sprinters in the world. Various times have been given for his last leg, the slowest estimate being 8.9 but most being around 8.6-8.7.

Jocelyn Delecour, France's last leg runner, famously said to Paul Drayton before the relay final that "you can't win, all you have is Bob Hayes." Drayton was able to reply, after the race "all you need..."

That was Hayes' last race. He signed for the Dallas Cowboys on his return, commencing a career in US Football which was just as impressive.

One amusing aside to Hayes' 100m victory. During some messing around in the village between Hayes, Ralph Boston and Joe Frazier, one of Hayes' spikes was kicked under a bed. He didn't realise this until he got to the stadium, and he had to run in borrowed spikes!

It is always fun to wonder what champions of the past would achieve given today's training methods, nutrition, financial rewards, competition etc. Hayes achieved all of the above before his 22nd Birthday, running in the football off-season, on mostly cinder tracks. He estimated that had he carried on he could have brought his 100m time down by "a couple of tenths." My personal view is that if Hayes had trained full time to his mid twenties, run on today's tracks and had today's social, nutritional and training benefits, he would be running 100m in at least the low 9.70s and maybe even under 9.70.

The greatest? In my view, no contest.

And what if he had run on?

I wonder if it might be interesting to consider what would have happened had Hayes decided to continue after 1964 to defend his title in Mexico City, rather than what would happen if he was transported to modern TrackWorld.

Consider the advantages Hayes would have had in '68 vs '64. Top competition for a start. A synthetic track. Altitude. 4 more years training. He had already run 9.9w (in '63) and 9.91w (in '64). The hand timing in Tokyo was 9.9 - 9.9 - 9.8. So it's fair to assume that we would have had a 9.9 WR well before Jim Hines managed the feat in the '68 AAU. Considering Hines ran 10.03 in the '68 AAU, just 3/100ths faster than Hayes had run on a cinder track in Tokyo, it's probably fair to assume that at least one auto-timer would have caught Hayes in under 10.00 before Mexico City. So already we've re-written the history of 100m running, with Hayes the first man under 10 seconds with hand-timing (windy and legal) and auto timing (windy and legal) all at sea level. Now, we get to Mexico City. Hines ran 0.08 faster in MC than his sea-level best (9.95 vs 10.03). Assuming Hayes would already have been down to around 9.95 - 9.99 it's easy to imagine him running 9.90 or faster. In fact, I consider that an extremely conservative estimate because I'm ascribing Hayes likely improvements from Tokyo to Mexico City to the track, competition and altitude, without wondering if he might actually have got FASTER with time (not unreasonable, although also not certain).

So, an altitude-assisted Bob Hayes WR of under 9.90? It's not hard to imagine this being well below 9.90. It might have stood for 30 years. It might even stand now. Sub 10.00 without altitude? It was 1983 before anyone managed that.

Justin Clouder