A sprinter par excellence

Published : Jan 12, 2012 00:00 IST

One for posterity… Usain Bolt poses with the electronic clock after setting the world record in the men's 100 metres at the World Championship in Berlin in 2009.-AP
One for posterity… Usain Bolt poses with the electronic clock after setting the world record in the men's 100 metres at the World Championship in Berlin in 2009.-AP

One for posterity… Usain Bolt poses with the electronic clock after setting the world record in the men's 100 metres at the World Championship in Berlin in 2009.-AP

With an awesome reputation following his superhuman performances at the Beijing Olympics and the Berlin Worlds, Usain Bolt is a cinch to win the sprint double at the 2012 Games in London. In fact, no one would be willing to stick his neck out against the Jamaican coming up with yet another world record. By K. P. Mohan.

Usain Bolt captivated millions of fans around the globe with his awesome performances at the Beijing Olympics and the Berlin World Championships in 2008 and 2009. Despite a shock disqualification and elimination from the 100m final at the Daegu World Championships last August, the Jamaican remains the firm favourite to take the sprint double at the 2012 Olympic Games.

The only question is will he set another individual world record in London?

Expectations, following his superhuman performance at the Beijing Games, did not weigh him down in Berlin a year later when he produced unbelievable world records as though for the asking.

Bolt was far ahead of our times in Beijing and Berlin in both the sprints. Can he slice precious fractions from those intimidating timings of 9.58s and 19.19s in the two sprints next year even if we take it for granted that he can win both races in the Olympics?

Having built up such an awesome reputation since Beijing, no one would be willing to put his neck out against the Jamaican coming up with yet another world record.

It had looked all too simple in Beijing. He had gone into the last Olympics as a world record holder in the 100 metres, but then the whole world would sit up and take note only after his phenomenal exploits at the Bird's Nest.

Bolt had lowered countryman Asafa Powell's world record to 9.72s while winning the Reebok Grand Prix in New York on May 31, 2008. It was only the fifth competitive 100m sprint of his career! In less than three months he would win the Olympic gold, shaving 0.03s off his world record.

His thigh-slapping antics, experts agreed, had cost Bolt precious fractions in Beijing.

Ato Boldon, former world champion in the 200 metres, said he would put it at around 9.59s if Bolt had not wasted time celebrating as he neared the finish line.

That is what Bolt did a year later, in Berlin. He ran a 9.58s to stun the world all over again.

What is Bolt capable of? That question has lingered from Beijing to this day.

“I said I could run 9.4sec. I think it will stop at 9.4 but you never know,” the Jamaican had said after his 9.58 in Berlin.

“Running 9.5sec is definitely a big thing. I'm proud of myself because I'm the first man to have done that.

“I honestly don't know how fast I can go.”

Recently, the Sydney Daily Telegraph quoted Bolt as saying, however: “But it (9.4s) is not an obsession. I already have the world record.”

Mathematicians and scientists have never agreed on the ultimate men's 100m world record. A study in 1998 put it at 9.37s; one in 2009 placed it at 9.51s without having taken Bolt's Beijing and Berlin times into consideration.

Bolt's coach Glen Mills said after the Beijing 100 that his trainee could have run a 9.52 had he not relaxed towards the end. Experts were reluctant to agree with the coach's estimated timing then, but were unsure of their own projections after Bolt lowered the record further in Berlin.

“This is his first year of running the 100 metres,” Mills had said in Beijing. “In two more years he should be peaking at this distance and by then I am certain he will be down to there.”

Being a tall man (6ft 5in) he never was a great starter. In fact in Beijing, with a reaction time of 0.165m/s he was only the seventh fastest in the final; in Berlin, at 0.146m/s, he was the sixth fastest.

However, for his 19.19s in the 200 metres in Berlin, Bolt was the best in the field. When you look at that 200 record that is more awesome than anything else in the record books.

Whether he was best off the blocks or not, everyone agreed Bolt was beyond reach in the 100 metres once past the half-way mark. His stride length was unmatched and his speed towards the closing stages difficult to match.

That is until now. Some of the former champions have started doubting Bolt's infallibility even as some others stick to the argument that he is all but unbeatable.

“If everybody competes like they did this year, I'd say Yohan Blake is going to win,” former Olympic and world champion Maurice Greene told BBC Radio recently.

“If you think about the close races he's had, he's lost (them),” Greene said.

But then Bolt has not lost many after his amazing Beijing sprint. If you exclude the Daegu disaster due to a false start, he has only been beaten once, after 14 finals in about two years, beginning from August 16, 2008, in Beijing through to Saint-Denis, France, on July 16, 2010. The solitary loss came in Stockholm on August 6, 2010, to American Tyson Gay, who with his 9.69s in Berlin 2009 is the second fastest man ever. Gay admitted Bolt was physically not at his best at that time.

Bolt has a 5-1 record against Blake, the only loss to be counted being the one in Daegu through disqualification. Blake won there in 9.92s and later clocked an incredible 19.26s for the 200 in Brussels, the second fastest ever behind Bolt's world record. But the two did not meet in 2011 prior to the Worlds. Some critics even suggested that Bolt, not so sharp as before and no so fit during the season, might have betrayed his nerves as he came off the blocks ahead of the gun in Daegu.

There was also a suggestion that a twitch that Blake showed in television replays might have triggered Bolt's false start.

In the 200, Bolt has a more enviable record. He has been unbeaten since the Golden Spike in Ostrava on June 12, 2008. He also has six of the top 10 timings over the distance in the all-time list.

Michael Johnson believes Bolt is still the favourite for the London double. “But I think he is in a great position to repeat (2008) and I wouldn't put my money on any one else but him for 100 and 200,” the American legend was quoted as saying.

Despite being the first man to hold the World and Olympic gold medals and the world records in both sprints, Bolt does not count himself among the legends. Not yet.

“I think I'm one of the greats, definitely,” Bolt told BBC Sport last July. “But (to be) a legend in the sport I think I need to defend my (Olympic) titles. That's my personal goal.”

The 25-year-old Jamaican added: “People have crowned me a legend already. I haven't really placed myself that high yet.”

He has plans to try out something different. Perhaps the 4x400m relay as he goes for a possible four-gold haul.

“I definitely would want to try because if I do as well as in Berlin, the 4x400 would top it off and even make it a little bit much better,” Bolt recently told the media in Monaco.

The last athlete to win four gold medals in an Olympics was Carl Lewis in 1984. Lewis also has back-to-back 100m titles in Olympics, thanks to Ben Johnson's disqualification in 1988.

Michael Johnson said the other day that Bolt had it in him to break his world record for the lap, of 43.18s set in Seville, Spain, in 1999. Bolt, in his opinion, could even go under 43. The Jamaican has a best of 45.28, clocked in 2007 but he does not relish running the lap.

Even though the new IAAF regulations would allow seeded stars to avoid the opening round in the sprints, it is doubtful whether Bolt would contemplate the individual 400 in the Olympics.

The longer relay might be a different proposition. Of course, with the world champion, US, quite capable of holding off a challenge as it did in Daegu, there could be no certainty that Jamaica might sneak in. With Usain St. Leo Bolt around, you never know for sure, of course.

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