Of the many dozens of events at the Olympic Games, it’s the 100m final that lasts the shortest and generates, arguably, the most excitement. For those few seconds, most sports fans in the world stop and hold their breath. From start to finish for those few seconds, when athletes move so fast, the world comes to a standstill.

Over the years, there have been many iconic champions in the 100m event at Olympics. But very few can match the miraculous nature of the gold medal that Gail Devers won at 1992 Barcelona.

For starters, the finish itself was one for the ages. Devers was deemed to have won the race in a time of 10.82 seconds, ahead of Juliet Cuthbert of Jamaica. But in the moments when it unfolded, you could have said that about five different athletes. It was a sensational photo finish that incredibly saw five women cross the line just 0.06 seconds apart.

“It has been dubbed the closest-ever 100m final, with Barcelona 1992 being the stage for a race that will live long in the memory,” according to a feature on Olympics.com.

Devers started off brilliantly and established an early lead but her competitors found rhythm and caught up with the finish line in sight. She found out after a delay, understandably, that she had won the gold in what was the most epic photo-finish.

But, she almost didn’t even make it this far. In 1991, she was taken to a hospital with a condition on her foot that could have resulted in amputation. She had also been diagnosed with Graves’ disease earlier and had to undergo radiation therapy. But she fought through it all and emerged victorious.

On the day, it was a story of a fast start helping her just about finish first on the podium. In the years before, it was a daunting battle off the tracks.

“A year later I was standing on the starting line for the Olympic 100m final in Barcelona,” Devers wrote for The Guardian. “That was a difficult sensation to describe. Nineteen months earlier I had been crawling on my hands and knees. Now, although I was in lane two and no one gave me a chance, I told myself: ‘I’m not afraid of anything or anybody. God, let your will be done.’ I won the race. I was Olympic champion - and I defended my title four years later at the Atlanta Games of 1996. But winning that first gold was indescribable.”

“Among the women, the 100 m and the 100 m hurdles were dominated by the same person: the American Gail Devers. After being on the point of losing both legs as a result of an illness in the spring of 1990, she was determined not just to recover but to emulate the feat of Fanny Blankers-Koen of the Netherlands, the only athlete to win the two 100 m events at one Games (London 1948). In the 100 m, Devers won by a hundredth of a second from the Jamaican Juliet Cuthbert (silver) and two hundredths from Irina Privalova of the Unified Team (bronze); two eternal favourites, Gwen Torrence of the USA and Merlene Ottey of Jamaica, were left, once again, without a medal. But five days later in the final of 100 m hurdles, when she was dominating the race, Gail Devers tripped over the last fence and had to make do with fifth place. This made way for the almost unknown Paraskevi Patoulidou to become the first woman to win a medal (a gold!) for Greece.”

— Excerpt from the official Games report of Barcelona 19992
Rank Lane Athlete Nation Time
GOLD  2 Gail Devers  United States 10.82
SILVER 3 Juliet Cuthbert  Jamaica 10.83
BRONZE 6 Irina Privalova  Unified Team 10.84
4 5 Gwen Torrence  United States 10.86
5 4 Merlene Ottey  Jamaica 10.88
6 7 Anelia Nuneva  Bulgaria 11.10
7 8 Mary Onyali  Nigeria 11.15
8 1 Liliana Allen  Cuba 11.19

Devers also competed in the Womens 100m hurdles but hit her last hurdle, finishing fifth in Barcelona and missing out on a double-gold. But she would make up for that in Atlanta in 1996 while defending the 100m gold medal and winning the relay too this time.

As a hurdler and sprinter, it would be a fitting moment for an athlete who jumped through hurdles off the tracks to get to where she did.

“In my race, there’s 10 hurdles, but in life, there is always a hurdle,” Devers is quoted as saying in 2013.

“There is always something you gotta get over, and it’s what you do, you know? Sometimes we fall, sometimes we stumble, but we can’t stay down. We can’t allow life to beat us down. Everything happens for a reason, and it builds character in us, and it tells us what we are about and how strong we really are when we didn’t think we could be that strong.”

Gail Devers Olympic Golds

Place Discipline Mark Wind Place Date
1. 4x100 Metres Relay 41.95 Olympic Stadium, Atlanta, GA (USA) 03 AUG 1996
1. 100 Metres 10.94 -0.7 Olympic Stadium, Atlanta, GA (USA) 27 JUL 1996
1. 100 Metres 10.82 -1.0 Estadio Olímpico, Barcelona (ESP) 01 AUG 1992
via World Athletics