The 100 metres is the shortest sprint distance commonly run outdoors. It is one of the most popular and prestigious events in the sport of athletics. It has been contested at the Summer Olympics since 1896 (1928 for women). The reigning 100m Olympic Champion or world record holder will often be referred to as "the fastest man/woman on earth".

On an outdoor 400 metres running track, the 100 metres is run on the home straight, with the start sometimes being set on an extension to make it a straight-line race. Runners begin in the starting blocks and the race begins when an official fires the starter's pistol. Sprinters typically reach top speed after somewhere between 50–60m. Their speed then slows progressively towards the finish line.

The 10-second barrier has historically been a barometer of fast men's performances, while the best female sprinters take eleven seconds or less to complete the race. Britain has a handful of male sprinters who have run sub-10, starting with Linford Christie, the first European to break the 10 second barrier. Adam Gemili is the first Briton to run a sub-10 100m and a sub-20 200m.

In the women’s event, 11 seconds is considered to be the elite mark. The only Briton to have bettered this time is Dina Asher-Smith.

The 100m emerged from the metrication of the 100 yards(91.4 m), a now defunct distance originally contested in English-speaking countries. The event is largely held outdoors as few indoor facilities have a 100m straight. Harold Abrahams’ 1924 triumph formed one of the centerpieces of the Oscar winning film ‘Chariots of Fire’.

Sprinters start from blocks which contain an electronic pressure pad to detect false starts based on reaction times to the starting gun. A reaction time of less than 0.10 second is deemed to be a false start. This figure is based on tests that show the human brain cannot hear and process the information from the start sound in under 0.10 seconds.

For many years a sprinter was disqualified if responsible for two false starts individually. However, this rule allowed some major races to be restarted so many times that the sprinters started to lose focus. The next iteration of the rule, introduced in February 2003, meant that one false start was allowed between the field, but anyone responsible for a subsequent false start was disqualified. This rule led to some sprinters deliberately false-starting to gain a psychological advantage: an individual with a slower reaction time might false-start, forcing the faster starters to wait and be sure of hearing the gun for the subsequent start, thereby losing some of their advantage. To avoid such abuse and to improve spectator enjoyment, the IAAF implemented a further change in the 2010 season – a false starting athlete now receives immediate disqualification. This proposal was met with objections when first raised in 2005, on the grounds that it would not leave any room for innocent mistakes. The rule had a dramatic impact at the 2011 world championships, when current world record holder Usain Bolt was disqualified.

Runners may also be disqualified for running outside of their lane if they are deemed to be interfering with another runner. The 100 metres is an event subject to the wind assistance rules. Races run with an aiding wind measured over 2.0 metres per second are not acceptable for record purposes.

Men

2016 Olympic Champion: Usain Bolt (JAM)

Olympic Record: 9.63s – Usain Bolt (JAM - 2012)

British Gold Medallists: Harold Abrahams (1928); Linford Christie (1992)

World Record: 9.58s – Usain Bolt (JAM - 2009)

British Record: 9.87s – Linford Christie (1993)

Women

2016 Olympic Champion:  Elaine Thompson (JAM)

Olympic Record: 10.62s – Florence Griffith-Joyner (USA - 1988)

World Record: 10.49s – Florence Griffith-Joyner (USA - 1988)

British Record: 10.99s – Dina Asher-Smith (2015)

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