Do not doubt Usain Bolt. Do not question his fitness. Do not say his training partner is better. If you do he will make you look foolish. I came into tonight’s final thinking we’d see a dethroning of the King at the London Olympic Stadium, with the Jamaican world record holder falling short of defending his 100 meters title. Wow, I was wrong.
In the Finals of the Men’s 100 meters sprint, Bolt affirmed his status as “The Fastest Man in the World,” with a blazing 9.63 second time that broke his own Olympic record from four years ago. Jamaican and 2011 World Champion Yohan Blake took silver and 2004 Olympic champion Justin Gatlin of the USA took bronze.
Bolt had given me reason to doubt with mounting injuries and losses. But Sunday night he shook off a hamstring injury, his loss in the Jamaican trials to his training partner Blake and the false start that cost him his world title in the 100 meters last year, and then ran a race that puts him in rarefied Olympic air.
The stakes for this race were huge. It was the first leg of Bolt’s attempt to complete an historic double-double—winning both the 100 and 200 in two different Olympics. When I spoke to NBC’s track and field analyst Ato Boldin—himself a four-time Olympic sprint medalist—before the Games he said accomplishing this feat "would establish him as hands down the best Olympic sprinter of all time.”
He already deserves to be in that conversation because with this win he became the first man since Carl Lewis in 1988 to defend his Olympic 100-meter gold medal. The only thing that will keep him from completing the double-double, would be a false start, because what he showed the world today was that at his best, he’s unbeatable.
The question we all had was would we see Bolt at his best here at London 2012? The semifinal began to answer that. We got a glimpse into Bolt’s old form when in his heat he got so far ahead of the field that he could have turned around and ran the last 25 meters backwards and still hit the tape first. One commenter on Twitter said he thought Bolt had enough built a big enough lead he had time to eat a ham sandwich before anyone would catch him. Usain was conserving energy and looking good doing it.
Blake and American Justin Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic 100-meter gold medalist, had reason to be confident too. They each won their heats and Gatlin especially looked in peak form. It set up a mouth-watering final that delivered on the hype.
Bolt had to make sure that he could hold with the field out of the blocks in that first part of the race called the “drive phase” where runners are building to top speed as fast as they can. The drive phase has always been Bolt’s Achilles heel, but he’s always been able to make it up by hitting a blistering 27+ mph top speed. His long legs, which can make his starts slow, turn to a benefit once he gets going because it only takes him 41 steps to cover the 100 meters where most of his opponents need 44 to finish.
Before Blake came on the scene, Bolt didn’t have much to worry about with his slow starts. But, the shorter, more muscular Blake can not only accelerate faster, he’s one of the few guys that Bolt can’t catch up to if he gets too many steps behind. Bolt had a fair start and when at 30 meters he looked even with the group, you knew what was coming next: he would be leaving them in his wake and victory would be his.
Though he went under his 2008 Olympic record, Bolt didn’t get to cruise as much this time around, despite running the second fastest time in history. His challengers Sunday night were the three fastest men to ever run the 100 behind him. They didn’t disappoint either, running the fastest Olympic final in history. All men ran sub-10 seconds except for Asafa Powell. It’s fitting that fastest man ever should conquer the fastest race ever.
But no matter how fast his competitors went, they couldn’t outrun Bolt. And they probably wouldn’t be able to enjoy it as entertainingly as Bolt either. As much as we love his blazing speed, we may love his post-race antics just even more. No other person on the planet could wear their country’s flag like a cape and dance with the Wenlock, one of the weird one-eyed Olympic mascots and make it look cool. But Bolt did and he made it look as effortless as his 100-meter dash into history.