No – is the simple answer. And also the long answer. Whether you class it as 5:20 or 5:08, 1997 saw the infamous and arguably most flawlessly executed 147 break in the history of the game. It was Round 1 in the 1997 World Championship and Ronnie O’Sullivan was 8-5 up against Mick Price where a loose safety shot travelled a bit too far and well…the rest is history.
There isn’t really a definitive list as to the fastest maximum breaks as players don’t really go for speed when compiling these breaks. But to give some context, O’Sullivan holds at least 3-4 of the Top 5 quickest maximum breaks with times (excluding 1997) ranging in the 6 minute territory. He also most likely holds at least 7 out of the Top 10. Most of these feats were accomplished before 2003!
But will 1997 ever be beaten? Unlikely, for a few reasons. Firstly, the record wasn’t just broken. It was annihilated. The previous record before this time was James Wattana making a 147 in just over 7 minutes in 1992. O’Sullivan broke this by near enough 2 minutes; in the context of a maximum break, this is a considerable amount of time.
If we’re also looking at the general speed of a player, it’s not like the 5:08 was made by a player on a fluke. It was made by (arguably) the quickest player the game has seen and possibly the only player that could have made that break happen. I feel that if O’Sullivan wasn’t in snooker, the fastest 147 times would hover around the 8-9 minute mark. Nowadays, 147s take on average around 10-14 minutes or so. We wouldn’t even know that a time in the realm of the low 5 minutes was even fathomable.
Another point to consider are the referees of today. Referees today are a lot more careful and take their time when re-spotting colours. If anything, this makes me want to give a huge amount of credit to Len Ganley, who refereed the 1997 R1 WSC match for keeping with the pace of O’Sullivan and what was happening. If it was one of today’s referees, who knows what the time achieved would have been?
However, I do think what it ultimately came down to was a number of things falling into place at the right time. The break itself was perfectly executed in that there were no complicated shots that required much thought. The referee was going round the table as quickly as O’Sullivan. And the time was set by the one person that could have made it happen. Don’t believe me? Set up the opening shot for any pro and see how they do. And see what their average shot times are like.
O’Sullivan was 21 at the time and he was a lot more carefree in his game and considering he was 8-5 up, this only added to how relaxed he was. I mean, he was chalking practically every other shot and didn’t even do so when potting the final 3 colours. He wasn’t having to check any of the potting angles. It was literally like watching a computer make the perfect break. And it didn’t seem as if he was rushing.
So again, do I think it will be beaten? No. The only person that could come close to reaching that time is O’Sullivan himself. And even in his 40s I’d say he has a good chance of achieving it in the 6 minute mark. Just look at his 146 against Ding in the 2017 WSC quarter-finals. I think Rollie Williams said it best in one of his YouTube videos: ‘the guy is a one-man highlight reel’.
Edit: this was written well before 14 year old talent, Iulian Boiko from Ukraine made a 147 in under 6 minutes in training. Does this change my opinion – will the fastest break ever be beaten? Officially, no. Unofficially, maybe. I definitely don’t think it will be beaten in competitive play, due to the factors explained above. Even in unofficial, non-competitive play, players will get close but only if they and a referee run around the table. And I feel the only way it will truly be recognised is if it happens in competitive play.