Usain Bolt ran like a man who knew he had doubters Sunday night. There was no world record – a simple Olympic record of 9.63 seconds would have to suffice – but in watching Bolt tear to shreds an outrageously strong 100-metre field, we now know the answer to a question that has just sort of hung in the air for four years.
What would Bolt look like if he ran all out until the end? He’d look like he did in the television replays: eyes straight ahead, cheeks puffing, teeth clenched. No cocky glances to either side nor any hint of a let-up.
Three of the top four men who finished behind Bolt ran personal bests and it wasn’t enough. It was the fastest 100-metres in Olympic history, with seven of eight runners coming in under 10 seconds. Justin Gatlin of the U.S., ran 9.79 seconds – faster than he did in 2004 when he won the gold medal in Athens – and it was only good enough for third.
Monday is the 50th anniversary of Jamaican independence, and they’ll be tearing up Kingston. Bolt’s training partner, fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake, finished four one-hundredths in front of Gatlin to claim the silver. He and Blake celebrated together around the track at Olympic Stadium, throwing themselves into a throng of Jamaican supporters.
Bolt did his usual pre-race preening and even turned around to shush the crowd at Olympic Stadium but there were two gestures made that defined his approach on a perfect night for sprinting. He waved his forefinger in front of his mouth as he crossed the finish line is his semi-final – perhaps an admonishment to those who wondered whether he had the legs or interest level to defend his 100 and 200-metres gold medals – and before the final he pointed straight down the track with both hands.
Bolt, who holds the world record of 9.58 seconds set in Berlin in Aug. 2009, bettered the Olympic record of 9.69 that he set in Beijing in 2008.
In the blocks, Tyson Gay of the U.S., reduced to tears after finishing fourth in a season’s best time of 9.80, looked nervous. Meanwhile Blake, the youngest World Champion in history, who was undefeated for a year including wins over Bolt in the 100 and 200-metres at the Jamaican trials, did a scary monster routine, perhaps alluding to his nickname the Beast. Gatlin stalked back and forth like a nervous prize-fighter.
Gatlin, who was given a four-year suspension for doping, exuded quiet confidence in the build-up to the Olympics, giving the Jamaicans their due but making it clear he was not at all intimidated and that he had some unfinished business. He told reporters before the final that “the track is very fast,” and that he hoped to see “something special.”
Bolt and Blake didn’t exactly cruise through their semi-finals, but as was the case in qualifying they slowed up noticeably as they approached the finish line. Bolt won his semi-final heat in 9.87 seconds.
Gatlin was all business. He blasted out of the pack and laid down a 9.82 qualifying time just ahead of the surprise runner-up, Churandy Martina of the Netherlands, who set a national record with 9.91 seconds. Martina caught Gatlin unawares when the race was over, running up and chest-bumping the American. Jamaican Asafa Powell, whose star has been eclipsed by Bolt and Blake, faded at the end of the heat but advanced to the final as a fast qualifier. He was an after-thought in the final, finishing in last place, two seconds behind seventh-place finisher Richard Thompson.
Canada’s Justyn Warner equalled his personal best of 10.09 that he set in his qualifying heat on Saturday, not nearly enough in this crowd. The Markham, Ont., native is one to keep an eye on for the 2016 Rio de Janiero Olympics. Fast company he hung with this weekend. Warner, in fact, said at a recent meet in Toronto that he thought Bolt might have been sand-bagging with an eye toward establishing a more interesting narrative in London. If that was the case, it worked. Usain Bolt. Author. Why not?