Phil Sheridan: Usain Bolt 100 meters closer to being a track legend

Posted: August 06, 2012

LONDON - Usain Bolt.

Really, is there anything else to say? The name, by itself, conjures the spectacular speed, the infectious joy, the unprecedented dominance of the greatest sprinter who ever lived.

The shooting star from Beijing turned out to be a comet that comes around every four years. Despite talk that he'd lost his edge, that he was hurt, that countryman Yohan Blake and American Tyson Gay rendered him vulnerable - despite all that, Bolt's orbit blazed down the 100-meter track here in an Olympic-record 9.63 seconds.

"It means one step closer to being a legend," Bolt said, referring to his stated goal for the London Games. "This is what I do. I showed the world that I'm the greatest and that, no matter what, I'm going to show up on the day."

Thing is, the talk was true. Blake beat Bolt in the 100 and 200 meters in the Jamaican Olympic trials. Bolt's back really was hurting him, and that affected his hamstrings. And maybe, just maybe, his skyrocket success in 2008 sapped some of the will it takes to be the fastest man alive.

There's a reason that, before Sunday night, Carl Lewis was the only man to win the 100 meters in back-to-back Olympics.

"Without a doubt, it's harder than anything else [to repeat]," Bolt said. "When you get to the top, you're there, you work, and you're enjoying it. Sometimes you lose sight of what's going on around you. Yeah, you know what it takes to get there, but you lose sight because everybody is praising you. At the trials, when Yohan Blake beat me twice, it woke me up. He came and knocked on my door and said, 'Usain, it's an Olympic year, are you ready?' "

Bolt answered in unforgettable fashion. A track-level image from his semifinal heat told the story. He was so far ahead of the pack, you could see the entire "London 2012" logo on the signage along the infield between Bolt and the rest.

The final was closer, but it had to be. It featured the fastest field ever. Seven of the eight runners finished in less than 10 seconds, and the other, Jamaican Asafa Powell, pulled up with a groin injury. This would have been the fastest 100 in history without Bolt, and he blew the field away.

Blake ran his best time ever and finished 0.12 seconds behind the gold medalist. Justin Gatlin of the United State ran his own best time ever and finished 0.16 behind Bolt.

In Beijing, Bolt notoriously pulled up, starting his victory celebration a good 10 meters before the finish line. He won, of course. He broke the world record, of course. This time, with the field thundering more closely on his heels, he snuck a glance toward the clock, then leaned forward.

"I looked across and saw I was going to win," Bolt said. "I almost did what I did in Beijing. I almost did, but I just ran through the line."

The full truth is that he was vulnerable this time around. It would have taken a perfect race by Blake or Gatlin or Gay to challenge him. None of them ran one. After the race, Gatlin and Gay were both in tears.

Gatlin missed the Beijing Olympics. He was in the middle of a four-year doping suspension. He choked up talking about getting a medal after his career and reputation had been stained.

"Gold is gold, and bronze is bronze," Gatlin said, "but this medal has a story behind it."

Gay was openly sobbing. The smallest possible margin between tears of joy and tears of agony now has a measurement: 0.01 seconds, the difference between Gatlin's bronze and Gay's heartbreak.

"I gave it my all," Gay said. "It wasn't enough."

Bolt's own race was far from perfect, and we may never know what he could do if he combined a great start, his usual burst, and a strong finish. He has officially given up on trying.

"After the trials, my coach told me not to worry about my starts anymore," Bolt said. "Just focus on the last 50 meters."

It worked. Bolt was part of the group through the first 40 to 50 meters. He was alone after that.

He is entering the part of his career when you talk about what's possible, what his legacy might be. His Beijing performance was reputation-making. He crushed the world records in the 100 and 200 without ever really appearing taxed.

To come back and win both again really would place him on a higher rung. That's certainly Bolt's intention.

"I heard Blake was talking about the 200 meters," Bolt said. "That's my pet event. I told Blake he's not going to beat me again."

If he repeats in the 200, Bolt said, he will be able to call himself a legend.

It's OK if the rest of us get a head start.


Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or psheridan@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @Sheridanscribe. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at www.philly.com/philabuster. Read his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan

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