A sprinter and a showman

Usain Bolt was more than ready when the hour of reckoning arrived in London. He won the 100 metres with 0.12s to spare from Blake, almost as impressive as the 0.20s leeway he had in Beijing, writes K. P. Mohan.

“When Yohan Blake beat me twice, it woke me up,” said Usain Bolt. “It opened my eyes. Pretty much he came and knocked on my door and said, ‘Usain, wake up. It’s the Olympic year. I’m ready. Are you?’”

Bolt was more than ready when the hour of reckoning arrived in London. He won the 100 metres with 0.12s to spare from Blake, almost as impressive as the 0.20s leeway he had in Beijing.

By retaining his Olympic 100m title Bolt has emulated the great Carl Lewis as the only ones to win back-to-back short dash gold medals in the 116-year history of the modern Games.

In doing so in yet another display of brilliant sprinting, clocking an Olympic record 9.63s, the second fastest time ever behind his world record of 9.58s, the Jamaican also silenced doubters including an array of former stars, and carved for himself a niche in the annals of athletics history.

"I have nothing to say,” said the Olympic champion as the media, not long ago as doubtful about his ability to deliver on the biggest stage as the man on the street, devoured his quotes. “I said it on the track. All they can do is talk. I said when it comes to the championships it’s all about me.”

That is what he had said after being beaten twice by Blake in the Olympic trials back home. Two stunning defeats, in the 100 and 200, in Kingston by his training partner, coupled with a ‘minor hamstring problem’, did create doubts about his fitness if not form. But those who swore by his sheer class plumped for him when it came to picking the favourite for the 100.

The way he eased up in the semifinal and yet clocked 9.87s, it was clear that Bolt was ready to tackle any challenge that anyone in the strongest ever field assembled for the dash would be able to throw at him. He surely had plenty to spare.

Can this be another world record just as it was in Beijing in 2008 and Berlin, in the World championships in 2009? That question lingered on everyone’s mind until the race was over.

As the 25-year-old Jamaican was seen joking with Blake as they headed for the warm-up ground an hour before showdown and later when he played to the television camera deep inside the main stadium warm-up arena, one thing was clear: Bolt was sure of himself, barring the start perhaps.

“I was slightly worried about my start, so I sat in the blocks a bit, but I executed and that was the key. My coach said, ‘Stop worrying about your start, your best race is at the end.’”

The coach, Glen Mills, was right of course. Bolt’s best part in a 100 is always the final 50 metres. Unofficial splits showed him at 5.50s and 4.19s for his 9.69s in the last Olympics. They were 5.47s and 4.11s in the Berlin world record of 9.58s.

Though the start had been the six-foot, five-inch Bolt’s problem — that normally is a problem with all tall sprinters — he had not been a bad starter at all in big races, his nightmarish disqualification in the Daegu Worlds notwithstanding.

He was only the fourth fastest in the London final, at 0.165s reaction time. Blake, at 0.179s, was the worst.

Powell, third best starter, pulled up with a muscle strain and almost walked through for 11.99. The rest came below 10 seconds, the first time that has happened. The top six in the 1991 World Championships, led by Carl Lewis’s world record 9.86, had cracked 10 seconds in what had been categorised as the best sprint contest ever.

This one should overtake the Tokyo classic. If there was a touch of nerves, which Bolt would admit later, he showed none of it as the time approached for the start. As the announcements were made, with the runners getting ready to crouch down on the blocks, he looked into the cameras, made a face, even winked and then crossed and looked skyward, as usual.

“I was slightly nervous, but that cheer that I got (from the crowd) made all the jitters go away,” he said after the race.

He did not resort to his Beijing theatrics as he blazed towards the finish. From lane seven, he could probably see from the corner of his eye, history’s three other fastest sprinters to his left, American Tyson Gay (9.69) in four, countryman Asafa Powell (9.72) in three and Blake (9.75) in five, pumping their arms furiously as they struggled to keep pace with him towards the finish.

Once past 70 metres, Bolt was solely in charge of his territory, leaving the rest to sort out the lesser medals. He had time to glance to his left as he finished, ran through and then kneeled and kissed the ground before striking his signature bow-and-arrow pose for the benefit of cameramen and a delirious 80,000 crowd that had begun chanting “Usain, Usain, Usain”.

Bolt now has history’s top three timings. He also owns five other marks in the top 20 (up to 9.77), with Powell, who will now probably go out without a global championship individual gold, having six, Gay, yet another disappointment, with four, and Blake two.

Bolt had said that he wanted to be a legend and for that he had to retain his titles. “That was the first step to becoming a legend,” he said. In four years since Beijing 2008 he had been beaten only twice in the 100, by Gay in 2010 and by Blake this season, excluding the disqualification in Daegu.

“He’s the Michael Phelps of our sport. What can you say? He’s a showman. Is it arrogance, confidence?” said Justin Gatlin, who denied team-mate Gay the bronze by one hundredth of a second.

Among those who felt that Bolt could be beaten were former Olympic sprint champion Maurice Greene and former 400m hurdles great Edwin Moses. Michael Johnson, 400m world record holder, was of the opinion that he could be beaten provided a few things happened. Carl Lewis put his money on the Americans.

But former Olympic 100m champion Donovan Bailey and middle distance great and LOGOC Chairman Seb Coe gave the thumbs up to Bolt. Bailey was almost on dot with his prediction of 9.62s!