Before Usain Bolt, this African American athlete was the fastest man in the world

Retired Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt is the fastest man in the world being the world record holder in the 100 metres, 200 metres and 4 × 100 metres relay which he achieved at three consecutive Olympic Games.

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Usain Bolt

The eleven-time World Champion is the most successful athlete of the World Championships and the first athlete to win four World Championship titles in the 200 m as well as the joint-most successful athlete in the 100 m with three titles.

Bolt retired after the 2017 World Championships after finishing third in his last solo 100 m race, opted out of the 200 m, and pulled up in the 4×100 m relay final.

But, before Bolt became the fastest man in the world, there was African American athlete Calvin Smith. Born in 1960 in Bolton, Mississippi, little was known about Calvin Smith’s childhood.

History describes him as quiet, unassuming and a gifted American sprinter with a distinctive upright style. He had a dazzling career at the University of Alabama where he set the 100 meters world record on July 3, 1983, at the U.S. Olympic Festival at Colorado Springs, with a run of 9.93 seconds.

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Former Tide sprinter Calvin Smith to be inducted into Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. Photo: Twitter

This event announced Calvin Lewis to the world as he broke the 15 years record held by Jim Hines.

Smith continued to flourish despite huge competition from fellow American, Carl Lewis and Canada’s Ben Johnson. In August 1983, He became the first athlete to run under 10 seconds (9.97) for the 100m and under 20 seconds in the same evening in Zurich, Switzerland. Winning the gold medal as part of the U.S 4×100 meters team gave him the luxury of claiming another world record.

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Photo: Eurosport

The 1987 World Championship wasn’t any different as he successfully defended his 200m gold medal. Over a 12-year period, Calvin Smith won 9 of his 12 competitive races with 3 world records interlocking in 1980, 1983 and 1984 – his most lucrative years.

In Seoul, in the summer Olympics of 1988, Smith was dragged into one of the most controversial issues in his career during the 100m finals race. He was awarded the bronze medal after Ben Johnson of Canada tested positive to a banned substance – Anabolic Steroids.

Till date, Calvin is the only man amongst the five finishers in Seoul untouched by a drugs scandal. That race has been described by many as the dirtiest and most corrupt in history.

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Ben Johnson of Canada (L) leads Calvin Smith of the U.S. (2nd L), Linford Christie of Britain (2nd R) and Carl Lewis of the U.S. (R) across the finish line to win the men’s 100 meters sprint final at the Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, September 24, 1988. REUTERS/Pool

Speaking to Reuters, Smith said, “I should have been the gold medalist,”

“Throughout the last five or 10 years of my career, I knew I was being denied the chance to show that I was the best clean runner,” he told journalists. “I knew I was competing against athletes who were on drugs.”

Canadian Johnson was infamously hustled out of Seoul after testing positive for the steroid stanozolol following his victory in a world-record 9.79 seconds.

Before Usain Bolt, this African American athlete was the fastest man in the world
Photo: Eurosport

Smith ultimately missed out on what seemed like a likely gold medal in the 4×100 meters relay in Seoul because the US team was disqualified for passing the baton outside the legal area. He continued to run for the U.S national team in the 1990s after which he was named the captain of the U.S track and field team at major events.

His son, Calvin Smith Jr., currently runs the 200, 300, and 400 meters for the University of Florida.

Last Edited by:Ismail Akwei Updated: July 3, 2019


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