The legend of Usain Bolt
He was running hard. He was going all-out. No fooling around, no giving it the casual what-if, no allowance for the obvious fact that there was no one in this race to challenge him and he already had it won before the gun even went off.
This was about the quest to impose his will on time itself.
He wanted it bad. He wanted that record, and he swung around the turn, already far ahead, and hammered down the homestretch by himself, just him and the clock and the roar of the crowd. About a step before the line, he slowed ever so slightly, and when he got to the line, Usain Bolt allowed himself a peek to the left, at the official yellow Seiko clock.
19.20, it said.
Incredible. He had not just broken the world record. He had smashed it, the mark he himself had set last summer in Beijing, by a full tenth of a second — that 19.30 in Beijing taking over in the books from one of the most famous races in the annals of track and field, Michael Johnson’s 19.32 at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics.
Wait. After review, now the yellow clock registered a new time.
A time so outrageous, so stupendous, so amazing that it immediately added to the is-there-anything-he-can’t-do legend that, in just 12 short months, Usain Bolt has become.
Track and field has in recent years been reeling from a succession of doping scandals. Usain Bolt insists he’s clean. If you don’t believe him, there’s nothing he can do about that, he said. “I don’t get offended,” he said late Thursday night.
Assuming he’s clean — and there has not been anything directly suggesting Usain Bolt is not — we are in the presence of athletic genius. He is a talent so profound that every race is electric with possibility.
“Flabbergasting,” David Alerte of France, eighth Thursday, said after getting whipped. “I don’t have the words to explain. It was a big moment. A historic moment. I take the pleasure to run with Usain Bolt.”
Shawn Crawford, the gold medalist in the 200 in the 2004 Olympics, second in Beijing, fourth here Thursday, said Usain Bolt is a “gift” and a “blessing to the track world,” adding, “Anything that great is a blessing.”
Just five days before, Bolt had gone 9.58 in the 100. He is the first man ever to break 9.6.
Now he had, in a race that in its way is even more demanding — not just twice as long but ferocious in exposing any weakness on the curve — crashed through not just one but two barriers never before broached in all the years mankind has been running for the sake of sport.
Bolt is the first man to go under 19.3.
Bolt is the first to go under 19.2.
“9.5 is just crazy,’ Jamaican Steve Mullings, fifth Thursday night, said. “19.1 is just sick.”
This race was run into a slight headwind, 0.3 meters per second.
What if, one day, Bolt got himself into tip-top shape and the conditions lined up so that he got the maximum allowable tailwind, 2 meters per second? What then? 18.9-something?
Bolt has so re-framed the possibilities that everyone who knows track and field is now willing to openly allow for the possibility of seeing the 200 run in the 18s and the 100 in 9.4-something.
How can you not?
“He’s got an 18-second in him coming soon,” Mullings said.
For one of the first times, Bolt explained Thursday how he has gotten so good so fast. It’s rooted in the same thing that has made Michael Phelps even more of a force in the pool, an emphasis on weight-training for strength, speed and explosive power.
At the 2005 Worlds, for instance, won by Justin Gatlin of the United States in 20.04, Bolt finished eighth, in 26.27 — that’s right, 26.27. Wallace Spearmon of the United States took second in that race, in 20.20.
“I got a cramp during the race,” Bolt said, going on to explain that in 2005 he was still raw and, moreover, had just started working with Glen Mills, his coach since. In 2006, he said, he was “mainly injured.” At the 2007 Worlds, he took second behind Tyson Gay of the United States in the 200 and, he said, “We found out the real problem was I wasn’t strong enough.
“We went back to the drawing board and worked on my strength and [on] speed-endurance,” he said. “Now I know what I need to do.”
Even so, Bolt did not believe, at least in public, that he would turn in a record time here Thursday. He had said so before the race and reiterated afterward his “surprise.”
For one, there was the car accident earlier in the year, which disrupted his training, in particular the work he thought he needed to be stronger in the 200. “I’m not in the condition I was last year,” he said.
The 200s he had run this year had come, as sometimes happens, in crummy weather, in pouring rain two months ago in Lausanne, Switzerland, for instance — meaning his race preparation itself was not ideal.
There was, moreover, the physical drain of the 100 here just days before.
There was also the mental wear of not only the rounds in the 200 after that 100 but the realization that, essentially, he was going against himself. Gay had pulled out of the 200 here after coaxing all he could out of a sore groin to go 9.71 in the 100.
“I doubted people thought I would run 19.19,” Bolt said. “I didn’t think I would run 19.19.”
Alonso Edward of Panama took second in 19.81. That’s more than six-tenths of a second back. That’s — that’s like what happens in high school.
Spearmon got third, in a season-best 19.85.
Going forward, how talents such as Edward, Spearmon and Crawford keep up with Bolt is far from clear.
Spearmon, who has become a good friend with Bolt, said, “Just because you get beat doesn’t mean you stop trying. It means you go home and work your own resume.” He added that he would maybe “put a picture of Bolt above my bed — it’ll be my motivation in life.”
Crawford, who had called Bolt a “blessing,” said he had been taught that “any time there’s a blessing in the vicinity, you’re close to being blessed yourself.”
These guys, though, are chasing Bolt.
Bolt is chasing history.
He doesn’t fix a number, 18-something or 9.4-something, to his potential. To do so, as he has made plain many times over, would be to assess boundaries and limits, and that’s not his game.
Instead, he said, “Anything is possible.”