With the Tokyo Games finally on the horizon, sports fans are eager to see who is going to be crowned the fastest runner of 2021. Considered one of the most prestigious and popular athletics events, the winner of the 100-metre dash is often given the title ‘the fastest man or woman in the world’.
In this article, you’ll find the names of the best sprinters in the world as of 2021 and just what exactly it is that makes them the world’s fastest runners. The athletes in our list, both retired and active sprinters, are ranked by their 100m record times.
In this article we will cover:
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Who is the Fastest Runner in the World?
Currently, Christian Coleman and Shelley-Ann Fraser-Pryce are the world champions, while Usain Bolt and Elaine Thompson Herah are the Olympic champions for the 100 metre sprint.
The fastest any person has run on record is twenty-seven and a half miles per hour. This peak speed was achieved by Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt at the Berlin World Championships in 2009.
It was just after the midpoint of his 100-metre sprint when he broke the world record, achieving an unbelievable time of 9.58 seconds.
Usain Bolt holds the world records for men’s 100 m, 200 m, and the 4 x 100 m relays as part of the Jamaican team which included Yohan Blake, Nesta Carter, and Michael Frater.
He holds these records in both the Olympic Games and the World Championships. With his unbeaten records and thirteen individual gold medals, there’s a reason he’s the fastest runner in the world and regarded as the greatest sprinter of all time.
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Top 21 Fastest Runners in the World
Fastest Male Runners
The fastest male runners in the world all have times below the historic 10-second barrier, regarded as a symbol of a world-class sprinter. The first person to break this was Jim Hines in 1968 with a time of 9.9 seconds.
Since then, dozens of runners have broken his record. So, let’s start our list with some of the fastest men in the world!
#1 Steve Mullings
100 m Record: 9.80 seconds
Steve Mullings is a Jamaican former athlete. Though he is considered one of the fastest runners, Mullings never competed at any of the Olympic Games. His qualification into the 2004 Summer Olympics was withdrawn after testing positive for banned substances.
He returned in 2006 after a two year ban from athletics but by 2009, was back on form. Mullings set new personal bests in the 200 metres and won a gold medal as part of the Jamaican team for the 4 x 100 m relay race.
Mullings broke the 10-second barrier in 2011 at age 28 and ran a further seven times, all achieving times of under ten seconds. However, in August 2011 Mullings tested positive again during a drug test. His career abruptly ended as he received a lifetime ban from athletics.
#2 Maurice Greene
100 m Record: 9.79 seconds
Maurice Greene is a former track and field sprinter. His breakthrough came at the 1997 World Championships in Athens where he won the men’s 100 m. This marked the beginning of the American’s dominance over the event.
In 1999, he set the 100 metre world record with a time of 9.79 seconds and became the world’s fastest runner. By beating Donovan Bailey’s world record of 9.84 seconds, he lowered the world record by the largest gap since the introduction of electronic timing.
He secured this title again in 2001 and received the Olympic gold medal in 2000. Greene held the 9.79 world record for six years until it was officially broken by Asafa Powell in 2005.
In addition to his 100 m win, Greene won the 200 m title in 1999, making him the first person to win both events at a World Championships. He was also the only sprinter to hold the 100 m and 60 m indoor world records at the same time, setting the latter record twice.
Mullings officially retired in 2008, only running sparingly after an injury in 2005.
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#3 Nesta Carter
100 m Record: 9.78 seconds
Nesta Carter is a Jamaican sprinter, specialising in the 100 m. He is the fourth fastest runner in Jamaica behind Asafa Powell, Yohan Blake, and Usain Bolt.
In 2010, he became the fifth sprinter to complete the 100 m in less than 9.8 seconds, with a time of 9.78. This became his personal best as he lowered it from 9.91 seconds, ranking him as the sixth fastest male runner of all time.
Carter has also achieved success as part of the Jamaican 4 x 100 metres relay team, taking home gold.
However, he and his team lost their gold medals for the 4 x 100 m relay after he was sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee for doping at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
#4 Trayvon Bromell
100 m Record: 9.77 seconds
Born in 1995, American sprinter Trayvon Bromell has quickly established himself in the world of athletics. In 2014, he became the first junior (athletes under age 20) to break the 10-second barrier in the 100 metres. This set the current junior world record to 9.97 seconds.
In 2021, Bromwell recorded a personal best of 9.77 seconds in the 100 m, winning the 2021 Olympic Trials. This personal best makes him one of the fastest men of all time, ranking in seventh place.
#5 Christian Coleman
100 m Record: 9.76 seconds
American sprinter Christian Coleman is currently banned until 2022 due to repeated missed drug tests, meaning he won’t be competing in the 2021 Summer Olympics.
Nevertheless, he is the current world champion in the 100 metres, achieving a time of 9.79 seconds at the 2018 Diamond League finals. This marked him as the joint seventh best sprinter of all time in the history of the event, sharing the title with Maurice Greene.
Coleman also holds a personal record of 19.85 seconds for the 200 m and is the world indoor record holder for the 60 m sprint, with a time of 6.34 seconds!
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#6 Justin Gatlin
100 m Record: 9.74 seconds
In the world of athletics, Justin Gatlin is considered a veteran. At the age of 37, he became the oldest sprinter to win a medal in the men’s 100 metres at the World Athletics Championships in 2019.
Although, Gatlin had already established himself long before this as one of the fastest male runners, making history in 2004, winning the 100 m sprint in 9.85 seconds. However, Gatlin was banned in 2006 for a positive dope test and didn’t return to the athletics circuit until 2010.
A five-time Olympic medallist, Gatlin is ranked fifth on the all-time list of male 100 metre athletes. In 2014, Gatlin reached a personal best of 9.77 in the 100 m and 19.71 seconds in the 200 m. His times in both these races became the fastest single day 100 m and 200 m performance ever recorded. In 2015, Gatlin improved his personal best at the Qatar Athletic Super Grand Prix to just 9.74 seconds.
Gatlin also technically broke Usain Bolt’s 100 metres record of 9.58 seconds in 2011, achieving a time of 9.45 seconds. However, it should be mentioned this was on a Japanese game show. As he was assisted by some very large wind machines, Bolt gets to retain his ‘fastest runner in the world’ title.
#7 Asafa Powell
100 m Record: 9.72 seconds
Before Usain Bolt dominated the event, fellow Jamaican Asafa Powell held the world record for the 100 m, setting it twice between 2005 and 2008.
He currently ranks fourth on the all-time list of male 100 metre athletes with a time of 9.72 seconds. The 10-second barrier has become a hallmark of his career as a result of him consistently breaking it in competitions.
As of 2016, Powell has broken the barrier more than any other athlete, by an incredible 97 times.
Powell also holds the world record for the 100-yard dash with a time of 9.09 seconds and won a gold medal in the men’s 4 x 100 metres relay in 2016 at the Rio Olympic Games.
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#8 Yohan Blake & Tyson Gay (Tie)
100 m Record: 9.69 seconds
Nicknamed ‘The Beast’ by Usain Bolt, Jamaican sprinter Yohan Blake made history in 2011 when he won gold in the 100 m, becoming the event's youngest ever champion at 21 years old. He has four Olympic medals to his name – two gold and two silvers.
Before all of this at age nineteen, he previously held the record for being the youngest sprinter to have broken the 10-second barrier. Joint with Tyson Gay, he is the second fastest man ever over 100 m with a time of 9.69 seconds.
This personal best was achieved in 2012 – only Usain Bolt has run faster. He holds the title of second fastest man ever in both the 100 metres and the 200 metres.
Tyson Gay picked up gold in the 100 m, 200 m, and 4 x 100 m at the 2007 Osaka World Championships. This made the American the second man to win all three events at the same World Championships, a feat first achieved by Maurice Greene.
He achieved a championship record time of 19.76 seconds in the 200 metres and 9.69 seconds in the 100 metres. Along with Yohan Blake, this led to Gay ranking as the second fastest runner ever. He currently holds the American record. In 2009 at the World Championships, Gay’s time of 9.79 seconds for the 100 metres became the fastest non-winning time for the event.
#9 Usain Bolt
100 m Record: 9.58 seconds
We know we’ve already answered your question above about who is the fastest runner in the world, but we need to explain why Usain Bolt is such a remarkable athlete. There’s a reason he’s earned the nickname ‘Lightning Bolt’. As mentioned earlier, he’s the fastest runner in the world and by quite a large margin too. His world record time of 9.58 seconds beats Blake and Gay’s joint second time by an astonishing eleven hundredths of a second!
Bolt’s international debut over 100 metres was at the 2008 Olympics, previously holding the world under-20 and world under-18 records for the 200 metres. He has won eight Olympic gold medals and is the only sprinter to win the 100 m and 200 m titles at three consecutive Olympics (2008, 2012, and 2016).
His double sprint victory at the 2008 Beijing Olympics made him the first person to hold both records since fully automatic time became mandatory. He is also the most successful male athlete of the World Championships, winning consecutive gold medals from 2009 to 2015 in the 100 metres, 200 metres, and 4 x 100 metres. Usain Bolt’s nearly ten year reign in the world of athletics came to an end in 2017 when he retired after the 2017 World Championships.
What makes Bolt the fastest runner in the world?
Now, you might be wondering just what exactly is it that makes him the world’s fastest sprinter? Academics and track coaches have put forward the theory that running fast is more to do with the force applied to the ground rather than how quickly an athlete can move their legs.
Peter Weyand, a science professor at Southern Methodist University, conducted a study on speed in which athletes and non-athletes were compared as they ran their top speeds. The results showed that the amount of time to pick up a leg and put it down was very similar. Weyand found that speed is dependent on two things – the amount of force applied and the length of time that force is applied for. The more force a sprinter can apply, the further they can propel their body forward.
For Bolt, height is also a huge factor for his success. Standing at 6-foot-5, he is around five inches taller than both Yohan Blake and Tyson Gay. When he reaches his top speed, he takes far fewer steps so has a huge advantage over his fellow athletes. Bolt typically takes 41 steps in a 100 metre race, compared to his rivals who take around 44. His unique combination of height, speed, and acceleration were fundamental in helping him become the fastest runner in the world.
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Fastest Female Runners
The best female runners usually take eleven seconds or less to complete the sprint. The late Florence Griffith Joyner set the current women’s world record of 10.49 seconds in 1988. Nicknamed ‘Flo-Jo’, she is the fastest woman of all time. Her 100 m and 200 m records (21.34 seconds) still stand and there is an incredible fourteen hundredths of a second between her time and the second place record of 10.63 seconds.
In addition to her athleticism, Griffith Joyner was known for her daring fashion choices. She wore neon running suits, sported long painted nails, and wore jewellery during races – something most sprinters avoided in fear it would slow them down.
Her incredible records eventually brought about suspicion as a result of the dramatic improvement of her times over such a short period of time. Griffith Joyner was subjected to constant drug tests during the 1988 Seoul Olympics and passed all of them. The substance abuse allegations against her have never been substantiated.
Flo-Jo retired abruptly in 1989 and passed away in her sleep in 1998 at the age of 38. The cause of her unexpected death was suffocation during an epileptic seizure. She was prone to seizures due to a brain abnormality and had been treated for them in 1993 and 1994.
Although her world record time still stands, Florence Griffith Joyner will not be featured in our list of fastest female runners in the world as of current time in 2021.
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#1 Evelyn Ashford & Veronica Campbell Brown (Tie)
100 m Record: 10.76 seconds
Retired American athlete Evelyn Ashford was the first woman to break the 11-second barrier at an Olympic Games, and she is a five-time Olympic medallist, four of them gold. Ashford’s first world record was set in 1983 at the National Sports Festival when she ran the 100 metres in 10.97 seconds. Her personal record of 10.76 seconds came in 1984, where it still ranks as the No. 8 individual all-time.
Ashford also won three consecutive gold medals in the 4 x 100 metres relay at the 1984, 1988 and 1992 Olympics. During her career, she ran under the 11-second barrier over thirty times.
She was of course inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1997 where she was said to be ‘one of the greatest track and field runners ever’.
Veronica Campbell Brown achieved her personal best time of 10.76 seconds in the 100 metres in 2011, twenty-seven years after Evelyn Ashford did. Born in Jamaica, Veronica Campbell Brown is an eight-time Olympic medallist, with three golds to her name.
She is the second woman in history to win two consecutive Olympic 200 metre events, claiming the title in both 2004 and 2008. Campbell Brown is one of only nine athletes to win world championships at the youth, junior, and senior levels of the events.
#2 Kerron Stewart
100 m Record: 10.75 seconds
Interestingly, Kerron Stewart holds one of the fastest non-winning times for the women’s 100 metres.
Born in Kingston, her impressive time of 10.75 seconds at the 2009 World Athletics Championships wasn’t enough to beat fellow Jamaican Shelley-Ann Fraser’s winning time of 10.73 seconds. However, she is the 2008 Jamaican national champion in the 100 metres clocking 10.80 seconds. Stewart also anchored her team in the 4 x 100 metre relay, helping the Jamaican team to victory in a time of 42.06 seconds.
Stewart also had an impressive junior record, she reigned victorious in the under 18 100m at the 200 Carifta Games. Later that year, she represented Jamaica during the World Junior Championships where she was awarded a silver medal in the 4 x 100 m relay.
After many other astonishing achievements, she was selected for the 2003 Pan American Games but sustained an injury in the athletes village by walking through a plate glass window in the dark! This put Steward out of action for three months and after recovering was selected as an alternate for the Jamaican 2004 Olympic team, however she did not get the chance to race.
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#3 Merlene Ottey & English Gardner (Tie)
100 m Record: 10.74 seconds
Merlene Ottey had the longest career of any top level international sprinter, beginning with the Pan Am games in 1979 and finishing at the 2012 European Championships at the age of 52. Ottey represented Jamaica from 1978 until competing for Slovenia from 2002 to 2012. She ranks fourth on the all-time list over 60 metres, eighth on the over 100 metres all-time list, and fifth on the over 200 metres all-time list. With a time of 21.87 seconds, Ottey is the current world indoor record holder for the 200 metres, setting it in 1993.
During her long career, Ottey never achieved gold at the Olympics, only three silver medals. However, her six bronze Olympic medals and seven World Championships earned her the title ‘Bronze Queen’. Altogether, she has won 14 World Championships medals and was named Jamaican Sportswoman of the Year 13 times between 1979 and 1995. She also holds the record for most Olympic appearances of any track and field athlete, with a total of seven.
Sharing Merlene Ottey’s personal best of 10.74 seconds is English Gardner. In 2013, she qualified for the World Championships in Athletics in Moscow. Her winning time of 10.85 meant she shared the best time run in 2013 with Barbara Pierre who set it that same day in a semi-final.
Gardner’s 2016 time of 10.74 seconds, set by the American during the United States Olympic Trials, places her in the top ten all-time for over 100 metres. As part of the 4 x 100 metre relay team, Gardner has one Olympic gold medal and two silver World Championships medals to her name.
#4 Christine Arron
100 m Record: 10.73 seconds
French former track and field sprinter Christine Arron competed internationally for her country in the 60 metres, 100 metres, 200 metres, and 4 x 100 metres relay race. With a 100 metres time of 10.73 seconds, Arron currently holds the European record and is one of the ten fastest female 100 m sprinters of all time.
The record was set in 1998 when she won at the European Championships and also won the 4 x 100 metres relay race. The time made her then the second-fastest female 100 m sprinter ever, falling behind Florence Griffith-Joyner.
When Arron broke the record, many considered her time the ‘true’ world record as a result of the suspicion surrounding Flo-Jo’s 1988 performance. Although Arron’s record time in 1998 made her then the second-fastest female ever, she only ever won one Olympic bronze medal.
Arron has openly criticised Marion Jones, her strongest career rival, who publicly admitted to taking performance-enhancing drugs. Jones was stripped of all her Olympic medals and Arron believes she would have won many more medals herself had Jones never cheated.
#5 Sha’Carri Richardson
100 m Record: 10.72 seconds
American track and field sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson has taken the world of athletics by storm, already becoming one of the ten fastest female runners in history. While a freshman at Louisiana State University in 2019, Richardson ran a time of 10.75 seconds at the National Collegiate Athletic Association Championships.
In April 2021, she dropped this time to 10.72 seconds, her personal best, and became the fourth fastest American woman of all time. She currently stands as the sixth fastest female runner of all time.
However, Richardson’s athletics career hasn’t been a smooth one. Following her final 100 metres at the United States Olympic Trials, she tested positive for THC, the main psychoactive component in Cannabis.
THC is considered a ‘substance of abuse’ by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and is included in this category with cocaine, heroin, and MDMA. Richardson’s ineligibility opened a wider debate about the current rules on substances. In 2020, existing research about whether marijuana is a performance enhancer was reviewed.
It was concluded that there is no evidence marijuana positively enhances an athlete’s performance. Regardless of the science, the positive test meant Richardson is ineligible to compete in the 100 m at the Tokyo Olympics.
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#6 Elaine Thompson Herah
100 m Record: 10.70 seconds
Elaine Thompson Herah is the first female Jamaican sprinter to win the 100 metres and 200 metres at the same Olympic Games.
Herah was successful in her early life, as in 2013 at the Gibson Relays she placed second with a 11.41 seconds. In the same year she won gold at the American and Caribbean Championships in the 4 x 100 m relay.
Her status as one of the world’s best sprinters was recognised in 2015. This was the year she first broke the 11-second barrier with a world leading 10.92 seconds.
She rose to further prominence at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro where she broke her double sprint records. Along with fellow Jamaican Shelley-Ann Fraser-Pryce, she is currently one of the fastest female runners in the world.
#7 Marion Jones
100 m Record: 10.65 seconds
Former world champion sprinter Marion Jones was one of the most famous athletes linked to the BALCO scandal, involving the supply and use of performance enhancing substances.
While her record of 10.65 seconds wasn’t an honest one, it is still recognised on worldathletics.org as one of the fastest female times in the 100 metres. Jones originally started her sporting career as a basketball player before focusing on track.
At the 2000 Sydney Olympics, she won five medals, three of which were gold. She was the first female track and field athlete to win five medals at a single Olympics.
Throughout her entire career, Jones was accused of using performance enhancing drugs. The main reason for this was down to the athletes she associated herself with. Her first husband, former world champion shot-putter C.J. Hunter was caught using performance enhancing drugs.
This led to suspicion around Jones, who for years repeatedly denied she was involved. After the breakdown of her marriage, she began a relationship with American sprinter Tim Montgomery. He too benefited from BALCO and the banned substances they provided.
When the news was made public, this led to further accusations about Jones which she continued to forcefully deny. It wasn’t until 2007 when she publicly admitted to taking steroids and lying to federal agents. Jones was stripped of her Sydney Olympics medals and retired from the sport.
#8 Carmelita Jeter
100 m Record: 10.64 seconds
Carmelita Jeter is a retired American sprinter and holds the title of third fastest female runner ever in the 100 metres.
She has three Olympic medals and seven World Championships ones, three of which are gold and as of 2021, she holds three of the top ten times ever run. Jeter’s fastest run came at the 2009 IAAF World Athletics Final with a time of 10.67 seconds.
At the time, it was the fastest run in twelve years, only surpassed by Marion Jones and Florence Griffith Joyner. It was the fastest Jeter had run at that point, beating her personal best by 0.16 seconds.
She continued to improve and a week later at the Shanghai Golden Grand Prix, she achieved her record time of 10.64 seconds. At that point, she became the second fastest woman ever.
However, Jeter’s incredible improvement over such a short time was met with both celebration and suspicion. The history of performance enhancing drugs in athletics meant these claims were not without cause. Fortunately, Jeter deserves all of her praise and never abused substances and currently ranks as third fastest female runner of all time.
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#9 Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce
100 m Record: 10.63 seconds
Nicknamed ‘Pocket Rocket’ as a result of her incredible speed and short stature, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is one of the most decorated athletes in history at the World Athletics Championships. She has won ten gold medals and two silvers, as well as two Olympic gold medals.
While Fraser-Pryce’s times may not be as fast as Usain Bolt’s, she’s certainly dominated the world of athletics in the same way. Widely regarded as one of the greatest sprinters of all time, she’s currently the fastest living female sprinter.
Fraser-Pryce has also been credited with helping to elevate Jamaican sprinters on the international scene. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, she became the first Caribbean woman to win gold in the 100 metres.
In addition to this, her world title win in 2013 made her the oldest female sprinter (aged 32) and first mother in twenty-four years to claim a worldwide 100 m title. Her 60 metres world indoor title in 2014 made her the only woman to hold World Championships titles in the 100 m, 200 m, and 4 x 100 m at the same time.
Fraser-Pryce has won more international 100 metres world titles than any other female sprinter in history and has run the most recorded races for a female sprinter in under 10.80 seconds. She has hinted she may retire after the 2022 World Championships but as of 2021, she remains the fastest female runner in the world.
Why do male sprinters run faster than female sprinters?
Male and female athletes train equally hard. Although only male runners have broken the 10-second barrier, this isn’t down to a lack of effort on the part of female runners. When it comes to speed, men have a biological advantage over women.
This is largely down to body size and hormones. Male and female bodies greatly change during puberty and one reason for this is the surge in testosterone levels. This plays a part in promoting growth spurts and keeping the bones and muscles strong.
As men produce much more testosterone, they have an advantage of muscle over women. This muscle helps strengthen the legs and makes them more powerful, allowing men to run faster.
Another disadvantage for women is they generally have smaller lungs than men, meaning their oxygen consumption is lower. Therefore, their bodies have to work harder to deliver the oxygen they’re breathing into their muscles.
As mentioned above with Usain Bolt, men also have the added advantage of height. On average, men are taller than women. Longer strides means being able to cover a distance quicker than someone half your size.
Moreover, Dr Miho Tanaka, an assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery, also says that a woman’s running stance isn’t as efficient as a man’s - as women generally have wider hips.
If your hips are narrow like a man’s then the body is more aligned as it’s all acting in the same direction you’re running. This is the optimized function for muscles as the body doesn’t have to try harder to help you run faster.
Who was the fastest runner before Usain Bolt?
The name Usain Bolt is almost synonymous with ‘fastest runner in the world’. However, long before Bolt entered the world of athletics, there was Jim Hines. As evidenced by our list, there have been dozens of men faster than Hines but he holds the title of being the first person to officially break the 10-second barrier in the 100 metres.
It was on June 20th 1968 during the US national championships, on a night referred to as the ‘Night of Speed’. This occurred when the world record was broken by three different men during the same track meet. Hines had the fastest time, with the manual record being 9.9 while the electronic time was 10.03 seconds.
A couple of months later at the 1968 Summer Olympics, his time of 9.95 seconds was the fastest recorded electronic time until that point and was recognised as the new world record.
Hines held the record for fifteen years until Calvin Smith broke it in 1983 with a time of 9.93 seconds. Along with his American team, Hines also helped break the record for the 4 x 100 metres relay, winning gold at the same Olympic Games.
Before You Go!
So, there they are – the fastest runners in the world as of 2021. We hope our list of the fastest male and female sprinters has inspired you to reach some of your own goals. Not everyone can run like Usain Bolt or Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce but everyone can start their own fitness journey.
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Written by Professional S & C Coaches
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- Weyand, Peter G.; Sternlight, Deborah B.; Bellizzi, Matthew J.; and Wright, Seth, ‘Faster top running speeds are achieved by greater ground forces not more rapid leg movement’ in Journal of Applied Physiology, (November 2000, Vol. 89, Issue 5) 1991-1999, doi: https://doi.org/10.1152/jappl.2000.89.5.1991
- Rhodes, David, (August 2015), ‘How does Usain Bolt run so fast?’ in BBC News.
- Kramer, Andrew; Sinclair, Justin; Sharpe, Lara; and Sarris, Jerome, ‘Chronic Cannabis Consumption and Physical Exercise Performance in Healthy Adults: A Systematic Review’ in Journal of Cannabis Research, (October 2020, Vol. 2, Issue 34) 2-8
- Richtel, Matt, (July 2021), ‘Science Doesn’t Support Idea That Marijuana Aids Athletes’ Performance’ in The New York Times.