London 2012 Olympics: Imperious Bolt retains title with record-breaking run
Lightning strikes twice. And it lit up London last night. After all the rumours and theories about his supposedly lessening powers, all the technobabble and psychobabble about why he was not the same Usain Bolt we saw in Beijing, the fastest man on the planet gave the world his answer – and gave it with both barrels right between the eyes.
The doubters were right all along, in a sense.
This wasn’t a performance that could stand beside the wonders of four years ago, it was better; 9.69 seconds then and 9.63sec now. It was the second fastest 100m in history, second to a world record owned, of course, by the now double 100m Olympic champion.
The Jamaican became the first sprinter since Carl Lewis to retain his 100m title and he did it by dismantling his countryman, Yohan “The Beast” Blake. The young pretender ran brilliantly, equalling his lifetime best, but it wasn’t good enough. The frightening quality of this final can be measured in many different ways, one of them being the fact that seven of the eight ran sub-10 seconds and it would have been eight out of eight had Asafa Powell not trailed in with an injury. Another came in the times of those in Bolt’s wake. Blake, in second, has never run faster; Justin Gatlin, who finished third, has also never been as quick; Tyson Gay was fourth in his best time of the year and the American, Ryan Bailey, was fifth despite running the race of his young life.
All bowed to Bolt, who careered away on a lap of honour with Blake by his side. “I felt I could do this,” he said. “I was slightly worried about my start. It was not the best reaction in the world but I stopped worrying about it and executed it and it worked. I said it on the track, people can talk, all they can do is talk. When it comes to championships, I bring it. I knew [the crowd] would be like this, I can feel that energy and I am extremely happy.”
The race? Well, it was over before it was begun. Bolt’s reaction to the gun was not the fastest nor did he cover the opening metres as explosively as those around him, but then he’s never had to. His start was good enough for a man of his immense power. More than good enough for him to have reeled in his rivals early in the race before unfolding himself and going away from them. As soon as the quick starters didn’t get the big advantage they were hoping for
out of the blocks, they would surely have known they were done for. Bolt hunted them down and had it won long before he crossed the line, a picture of joy.
“Usain knows what it takes,” said Blake, the apprentice clearly still learning at the feet of the master. And how.
What a build-up we had to this historic night. What speculation. For all the analysis done on him, Bolt might have felt like a laboratory rat, dissected and picked at for research. There was the assessment of Maurice Greene, the former Olympic and world champion, saying that Bolt had lost something since Beijing. Greene said the Jamaican had a ton of technical problems. His body position was supposedly all wrong, his shoulders over his hips, but to Greene’s eye they were behind his hips. Greene said he heard all the talk from the Jamaican camp that Bolt was working hard on his technique but he didn’t believe it. “He’s never really worked out in his whole career,” he said. “He’s never developed that mentality of going back and fixing things. And when you’ve been doing things one way for two years, you don’t just change them overnight.”
The gospel according to the disbelievers had many verses. His slow starts have been pored over, particularly his ruinous start at the world championships in Daegu when he went too early and got disqualified. This, the psychologists suggested, and Greene was not alone in saying it, was to do with his deep-seated fear of Blake’s speed. Bolt had supposedly become unnerved, unnerved at having to wait for the gun.
The big thing, though, was his fitness, and this persistent talk that all was not well with his lower back. Before the Jamaican arrived in Birmingham for their training camp, Bolt took himself away to see the specialist German doctor, Hans Muller-Wohlfahrt. No matter how many times Bolt reassured people that he was feeling great and that he would defend his title, there was always a temptation to view his words as some kind of bluff. “He’s not good, but he’s not letting on” was the gist. Oh how he blew every theory to kingdom come last night.
Of course there was a valid reason for thinking that Bolt’s title was in grave danger – and it came in the form of Blake in the first instance and in the strides made this year by a set of Americans posting hugely impressive times. Justin Gatlin spoke with massive respect about Bolt on Saturday after the heats, calling him sprinting’s first man on the moon, but he still reckoned there was a chink there he could exploit. He couldn’t.
Even The Beast had to succumb. At 22 two years old, and up until last night the fastest man in the world this year, Blake got his nickname because of his work ethic. “When my coach gives me a programme,” says Blake, “I damage it.” And plenty thought, with good reason, that he could damage Bolt, too. Plenty thought that the aura of invincibility had been stripped away by Blake after his double victory over Bolt in the Jamaican trials, but those trials were never the true testing ground of their greatness. That came here. Blake brought his very best stuff, but Bolt still has all the artillery in the world, all the big-game mentality, all the records and all the gold.
Some thought he was losing his grip on greatness, but he owns the sprinting game. And last night he would have felt like he owned the world.
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