Chinese sprinter Su Bingtian made Olympic history on Sunday night, becoming the first Asian athlete to compete in the men’s 100-meter final since Takayoshi Yoshioka at the 1932 Games in Los Angeles.
The 31-year-old arrived in Tokyo as a rank underdog, having been knocked out twice in the semi-finals in London and Rio.
But on an extraordinary night of great drama, which saw American favorite Trayvon Bromell fail to advance to the final, Su seemed to defy all expectations, crossing the finish line of the third semi-final in first place – and setting a new Asian record of 9.83 seconds.
Time – the fastest of any semi-finalist – positioned the 5ft 8in (173cm) Su as an unlikely favorite heading into the Tokyo 2020 final. At night however, it wasn’t for him. Su finished sixth with a time of 9.98 seconds, while Italy’s Lamont Marcell Jacobs took gold in 9.80 seconds.
On Weibo, the heavily censored Chinese Twitter-like platform, five of Sunday night’s 10 hottest topics referred to Su’s sprint final, amid a burst of pride for his record-breaking feat.
“Su Bingtian, you are a miracle from all over Asia!” The pride of all of Asia! declared a first comment with almost 300,000 likes.
After the race, Su told Chinese state media that walking the track made her Olympic dream come true.
“I lacked energy in the semi-final. To finish the final in less than 10 seconds is not an easy thing for me, ”he added.
Indeed, Su was the first Asian-born athlete to officially break through the 10-second barrier, the traditional measure of a world-class sprinter. Only a select group of Asian athletes have since achieved the feat.
By comparison, Su’s semi-final time of 9.83 seconds would have been enough to win Olympic gold in Barcelona in 1992 (9.96 seconds, Linford Christie); Sydney, 2000 (9.87 seconds, Maurice Greene); and Athens, 2004 (9.85 seconds, Justin Gatlin). Usain Bolt holds the fastest 100-meter time of all time with 9.58 seconds at the 2009 World Championships. Bolt also holds the Olympic record with 9.63 seconds in London 2012.
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