Saturday, August 16, 2008

Bolt Is World’s Fastest — by a Mile

BEIJING — Usain Bolt, the Jamaican sprinter who has crashed the international sprint scene this year, crushed the world record in the 100 meters in theatrical fashion Saturday night at the Beijing Olympics.

Starting in Lane 4, Bolt got a mediocre start out of the blocks but blew away the rest of the field in the final 50 meters, spreading his arms with three strides to go and pounding his chest before crossing the line in 9.69 seconds unofficially. If he had held his form through the tape, he may have run in the 9.5’s.

With a body seemingly ill-suited for the blink-and-it’s-over 100-meter dash, the 6-foot-5 Bolt won track and field’s marquee event in front of more than 90,000 fans at the Bird’s Nest, just 10 weeks removed from his breakthrough performance in New York City. On May 31, competing in the Reebok Grand Prix on Randalls Island, Bolt ran a 9.72, breaking Powell’s record.

The men’s 100 final was missing one of the top contenders, the American record holder and defending world champion Tyson Gay. He failed to advance out of his semifinal heat Saturday night, finishing fifth in 10.05 seconds and stealing the final of some of its anticipated luster. Gay finished behind Powell, Richard Thompson and Darvis Patton in the semifinal heat. Gay’s only chance at Olympic medals will be in the relays.

“I don’t really have any excuses, I just didn’t make it,” Gay said. “My hamstring felt good. It didn’t bother me. I wasn’t too overwhelmed with this being the Olympics. Maybe I could have used some more training or more races but besides that, I was just trying to get my rhythm through each round.”

Powell, 25, who held the world record from June 2005 until May, won his semifinal heat in 9.91. Bolt, 21, ran a 9.85 seconds despite slowing toward the end.

Bolt’s height makes him somewhat of an unlikely success in the 100, a burst that typically favors shorter, stockier runners. But he manages to reach blazing speed with unusual stride length and stride frequency.

The meet in New York in May was only the fifth time Bolt had run the 100 professionally, but he could boast two of the three fastest times ever. Although he was not yet an international star before 2008, Bolt has long been highly regarded in the track community. He won the world junior championship at 200 meters at age 15. He later was the first junior sprinter to break 20 seconds for the 200.