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The Aftermath: Bolt Destroys Field in Olympic 100m

– Derek M. Hansen –

I like everone else watched in amazement as Usain Bolt tip-toed through the tulips on the last 20 meters of his 100m Olympic final on Saturday, August 16th. The time of 9.69 seconds barely gave an indication of what he could have run had he decided to run hard right through the finish line. The slow-motion replays made his achievement look even more outrageous as he waved his arms around and beat his chest like he was one of the “Village People” tracing the letters for YMCA.

Commentary from former athletes such as Donovan Bailey (CBC) and Ato Boldon (NBC) maintained that Bolt could improve technically out of the blocks and further put the world record out of reach. Fellow competitors were using words like “freak of nature” and claiming that he could have run “9.54” had he not slowed down. On the other side of the fence, Ben Johnson told London’s Daily Mail when asked if he thought sprinters were still doping 20 years after his positive test, “How shall we put it to avoid being sued by everybody?” However, even if you look at it from Ben Johnson’s point of view, what Bolt accomplished was still amazing. It is much similar to what Johnson did to a field of competitors who at one time or another either tested positive or admitted to doping. Perhaps the playing field is level, at least for the top eight or maybe even the top 16 competitors.

For those of us in the trenches trying to glean some meaning from Bolt’s accomplishment and apply it to the training of other athletes it is a daunting task. But I have learned a few things from the accomplishment of Usain Bolt and the 100m final in general. Here are some key thoughts that have crossed my mind since Saturday:

  • Tall athletes can be successful in the 100m. In fact, Bolt showed that his tall, lanky frame can accelerate to victory, and likely a world record, even before 60m. His power and strength are such that his long limbs can be turned into an asset very quickly in the race. It will be interesting to see if the rise of Usain Bolt will give rise to future tall sprinters and change the way coaches recruit and identify future talent for the event, as well as other speed related sports.

  • A great start out of the blocks is not necessary if other parts of the race are exceptional. Bolt’s push out of the blocks was unspectacular, reminiscent of Donovan Bailey and Carl Lewis, who also had success in the middle to latter stages of the race. Bolt’s ability to run exceptional 100m times reinforces the fact that starting ability need only be adequate. The ability to reach a high top speed within 50 to 60 meters is much more important for separating yourself from the field and maintaining an insurmountable lead for the rest of the race. Bolt’s top speed – likely in excess of 12 meters per second – gave him the ability to “jog-in” the last 20 meters of the race and still maintain a healthy lead over his straining competitors.

  • Supreme confidence is created and bolstered by supreme preparation. Bolt did not need sports psychologists boosting his ego leading into these games. He knew that he was well prepared going into the rounds and that no one would seriously oppose his run for the gold. Many others commented on the fact that he was just having fun and felt no pressure. When you know that you will obliterate the field, it is a lot easier to have a good time.

  • At this level, everything must be perfect in order for athletes to win. There were doubts about Asafa Powell’s preparedness and significant questions regarding Tyson Gay’s ability to be ready after suffering the hamstring injury at the US trials. Needless to say, they were not ready to challenge for the gold. Bolt on the other hand seemed to be perfectly peaked for the Olympic Games and, despite a casual finish and no following wind, still broke a world record. His combination of amazing runs in the months leading up to the Olympics, his physical preparedness in the final few days and his mental confidence throughout the rounds made an Olympic gold medal a mere formality.
  • Where do we go from here?

    Let’s watch the 200 meters and carry on the discussion after that race. I think we know that Usain Bolt can run a faster 100 meter time if he simply runs through the finish line. Based on his 100m speed, we can assume that Michael Johnson’s World Record of 19.32 seconds is in jeopardy. If Usain can carry on with his training undisturbed and he doesn’t let his accomplishments go to his head, I’m sure we’ll see more amazing races. At the speeds he’s running and the pressures that go with being a gold medallist and world record holder (public appearances, running meets to make more money despite the conditions, does he have a girlfriend?), staying healthy and avoiding injuries will always be a concern. But for now, his recent accomplishments have certainly got people thinking about the limits of human performance.


    1. Derek,

      They must be partying it up in Jamaica these last couple of days. Not to mention Trinidad. Have you ever seen someone look so happy after placing such a distant second? The women’s 100 meters is never as popular as the men’s but I think the Jamaican sweep will make up for that with Jamaican’s. The Americans were almost kept out of the medals completely! What is going on there these days? Unfortunately, it isn’t Canadians who are taking their medals.

      I long for the days when the Canadians were a factor in the biggest race of the Olympics. That kind of rush lasts a life time. The race may take less than 10 seconds and only take place every 4 years, but there is nothing like it in sport. If someone from your country has a shot at gold, it is even better. When our sprinters are running well, it is good for track and field in general in this country. Otherwise, no one is paying much attention.

      I guess tall athletes have no excuse to be slow any more. I was listening to Freddie Coleman of ESPN radio. He said that NFL teams should find out if Bolt can catch a ball. I think he said Bolt’s 40 yard time in that race was about 4 seconds flat. He said that you wouldn’t even have to teach him the patterns. “Just keep running and we’ll throw the ball to you”. And if it was a 50-50 jump ball situation, who’s going to come down with it? Well many track sprinters have gone to football with varying degrees of success. But this man stands to make a lot of money in track. Maybe now some top athletes will actually think about track instead of some of those other sports. Lets hope that some young Canadians, especially some Jamaican- Canadians are getting fired up right now about track and field. Or are people going to be too discouraged by how fast Bolt is running. Now body really dreams of coming in second.

      Yes, let’s see what happens in the 200.

    2. Byron,

      Great comments. The football issue always amazes me. Carl Lewis, Ben Johnson, Dwain Chambers, Justin Gatlin and now Usain Bolt. Sure speed is critical in football, but there is a lot more to the game than running away from people.

      My experience has shown that football players and sprinters are different breeds. Sprinters tend to have a body awareness that can actually cause them problems in football. An elite sprinter will feel a slight tightness in their muscles and know that it is time to either bring down the intensity or stop the training session altogether. If a football player had this heightened awareness, they would never play. You get dinged up every week in football and you are still expected to play full tilt. For goodness sake, Ronnie Lott had his finger amputated so that he could keep playing. I don’t think you would see that type of decision making from Usain Bolt.

      And, catching that football is actually a lot harder than people think. The quarterbacks are delivering that ball with such force that it can break your fingers. Not to mention the defense is trying to take your head off every play, looking for that one time your head is down.

      So, while it looks like a good fit, in most cases it doesn’t pan out. Willie Gault made it work, and to some degree so did Renaldo Nehemiah. But it’s not like these guys were running circles around everyone.

      Bolt’s probably better at soccer anyways!

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