Bolt becomes box-office

Published : Aug 29, 2009 00:00 IST

Usain Bolt celebrates after smashing his own 200m world record.-AP
Usain Bolt celebrates after smashing his own 200m world record.-AP

Usain Bolt celebrates after smashing his own 200m world record.-AP

The legendary Michael Johnson struggled to describe the Jamaican’s amazing feats as he shattered records and powers of description. By Anna Kessel.

“Come get me,” mouthed Usain Bolt into the television cameras. But after destroying his own world record to finish the 200m in 19.19 seconds, there is absolutely nobody on earth who can even think about chasing him.

Such was the strength of his performance that where the rest of the field finished did not even come into it. If it is not too embarrassing to note, Alonso Edward finished nearest to Bolt, if you can call 0.62 of a second near, to take the silver medal. Wallace Spearmon, considered to be the Jamaican’s greatest threat in this race, took bronze with a season’s best of 19.85. Having played down his chances of world records before the race Bolt, who turned 23, comprehensively razed his previous best. Ahead after just 70m, he pulled away down the home straight to beat his previous world record of 19.30 by the same margin with which he improved his 100m record on the night of August 16 — a whopping 0.11s. This time, though, he had not even trained for it properly.

Bolt has been reminding us all year of the four weeks training he lost after overturning his BMW M3 in a ditch in April. Thorns were embedded in his bare feet and he was unable to run a bend, and there were question marks over what kind of speed endurance he could come up with — especially in a diminished field, without competition from the defending champion, Tyson Gay.

Before the race Michael Johnson, from whom Bolt took the 200m world record in 2008, had argued that you cannot miss out on basic training without it affecting your performance. He noted that Bolt’s natural fortitude for the 100m would not wash in the 200m, that putting in the hours to improve his speed endurance was an essential requirement that brought even Bolt down to mere mortal standards.

With a minimum of fuss, Bolt dispensed of that theory. The question is, what on earth would he have done to the record had he prepared properly? In an event where the world record has been broken just four times — now five — since electronic timing began in 1977, compared to the 14 times the 100m record has fallen, Bolt’s achievement was simply extraordinary.

Such a run leaves us with many questions, not least how we can put into words such astonishing feats. Bolt has been called everything from an “alien” to a “freak”, and Johnson suggested that for these kind of performances language simply fails us. “He’s just so much better than everyone else that it’s not enough to say: ‘He’s the best,’ or ‘He’s so much better than everyone else,’” Johnson said. “It’s just not enough. It’s not appropriate.”

Those words are music to the sport’s ears, for Bolt has become box-office. He is the only athlete to fill the Berlin Olympic stadium to the roof, where on other nights whole stands remained empty. On his warm up T-shirt he bore the slogan, “Ich bin ein Berlino” — the name of the mascot bear at these championships. But in truth it is Bolt who is the real mascot here.

In the 110m hurdles Britain’s William Sharman, competing at his first major championships, ran a personal best to finish fourth in 13.30 seconds. The 24-year-old former decathlete was picked out as a future hurdles talent after taking part in a masterclass at Loughborough University three years ago. Formerly coached by Gladiators referee John Anderson, the Nigerian-born Sharman was the official timekeeper in the show’s last series.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2009

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