– Derek M. Hansen –
After watching the heats and quarter-finals of the 2008 Olympic men’s 100 meters, I would say that the field is quickly sorting itself out. Despite my earlier assessment that Asafa Powell looked like the best candidate coming into the contest, Usain Bolt has shown that he is ready to aggressively challenge for the gold medal. As for other contenders, it does not look like they will mount any reasonable challenge to either of the Jamaican sprinters. For both Powell and Bolt, the first two heats were simply a matter of running half the race and then turning on the cruise control (if not the anti-lock brakes).
Tyson Gay easily won his opening heat, but looked very vulnerable in his quarter-final heat, placing second to Richard Thompson of Trinidad. Is his hamstring a factor? Is it simply the lack of training and racing over the past month? Either way, he does not appear to be a strong contender, unless he is doing a stellar job of playing possum. The race of the top three contenders looks as though it is narrowing to two.
Provided below are my thoughts after reviewing each of the individual races in the quarter finals:
Heat One – Martina Churandy from the Netherlands Antilles, who I’ve never even heard of before, ran a person best time of 9.99 seconds to win his heat, with Michael Frater in a reasonably close second. Churandy had a good start, establishing his lead on Frater in the first 10 meters of the race. Frater did close the gap slightly but still had to work hard for the entire 100m. One of these athletes may be a factor in the final if they can hold their form.
Heat Two – The second quarter final was interesting in that we got to see if Tyson Gay could step it up and show us that he is ready to compete for the gold. Richard Thompson ended up winning the heat in a time of 9.99, just over his personal best of 9.93. Thompson looked horrible out of the blocks with an acceleration technique that would make Donovan Bailey look like an expert out of the blocks. However, he did pick it up well at 30m accelerating smoothly to 60m and holding form. Tyson Gay looked unspectacular in posting a 10.09 time. You could say he even looked cautious, with no significant surges in the race that you might expect from the 2007 World Champion. Perhaps he is taking it very easy in these stages, being content to simply qualify and fight another day. From what I saw in both the heats and the quarters, I would say he is a very outside chance to medal and may have to work very hard in the semi-finals to secure a good lane in the final.
Heat Three – Marc Burns (10.05), Kim Collins (10.07) and Tyrone Edgar (10.10) all ran relatively hard races to qualify. Burns from Trinidad won the heat, but had to come from behind. Collins got out well, but doesn’t appear have comparable top end speed of the leading contenders. Burns and Collins may have enough to qualify for the final, but it will be tough for them.
Heat Four – Usain Bolt had a pedestrian start, but starting rolling at 35m and ate up the field through the middle portion of the race clocking a tremendously casual 9.92. Then he casually shut off the jets and rolled in for the last 45 meters. Even when he turned down the intensity, it still seemed his legs were eating up the track. At this point, Bolt is looking like the easiest qualifier, but there is still much running to be done. As has been predicted by many, how well he gets out at the start may determine where he finishes relative to Asafa Powell. Darvis Patton and Francis Obikwelu qualified but ran hard right through the tape to record times of 10.04 and 10.09 respectively.
Heat Five – Asafa Powell had a tremendous start once again, accelerated to 60 meters and then shut down to coast in for the win at 10.02. Relative to the field, Powell looked powerful and won easily. However, in my mind, he still looks less smooth than I’ve seen in previous years. I would say that there is still a question mark as to whether or not Powell is ready to beat Bolt. Much will depend on Powell’s start and Bolt’s ability to relax and be patient until the last half of the race to challenge Powell. There are also rumours that Powell may have a slightly strained abdominal muscle. It didn’t seem to affect his quarter final performance, but if he is required to run in the 9.80 second range or better, it may play a significant role. Walter Dix, who finished second in 10.08, worked hard the whole 100 meters despite looking over at a jogging Powell at the finish line. Third place finisher, Derrick Atkins of the Bahamas, also worked hard to finish in 10.14 seconds.
Semi-Finals: The True Test
I, like many others, are looking to the semi-finals to separate the men from the boys. If Tyson Gay is ready to challenge, it will be made apparent in this round. I suspect that it will be a very tough go for all but Powell and Bolt in an effort to qualify for the final. Between Powell and Bolt, it is tough to say who is the favorite for the gold. Bolt looks very strong from 30 meters onward. However, Powell can put some distance on Bolt at the start if things go Asafa’s way. Qualifying for the finals must be done as efficiently as possible, with only 2 hours and 20 minutes between the semis and the finals. I should also note that my sentimental pick to qualify for the final would be Kim Collins.