– Derek M. Hansen –
As I rolled out of bed this morning to watch the highly anticipated men’s 200m Olympic final, I expected to see another gold medal performance by Usain Bolt. Like Donovan Bailey, I was skeptical that I would actually see another world record, given Bolt’s numerous races and the magnitude of the task at hand – breaking 19.32 seconds – which was believed to be one of those untouchable records, much like the women’s 100m record. I did not expect anyone in the field to seriously challenge Bolt for the Olympic title. But, like many of the millions of other sprint fans, I was certainly hoping for something amazing.
Usain Bolt did not disappoint. I would say that 10 meters into the race I knew that Bolt was serious about challenging the record. You could almost see it in his face throughout the race. There was an intensity that I had not seen previously in these Games. He had made up the stagger on his lane 6 opponent very quickly and was rounding the corner well ahead of the field. I have to admit, I was impressed at how close Shawn Crawford had stayed with Bolt in the first 120 meters of the race, particularly after seeing Bolt hammer the 100 meter field last week. The most amazing part was not watching Bolt approach the finish line and seeing the clock stop at 19.31 seconds (adjusted to 19.30 seconds), it was finding out shortly after that the wind reading was a 0.9 meter per second headwind. Not only did he break what was thought to be an impossible record, but he did it under adverse conditions after several races.
Needless to say, I was amazed at what I had just witnessed. And after watching the numerous replays of his race and celebrations, I was left to wonder – now what? There are many questions that these performances have raised including:
Can Usain Bolt run faster?
Judging by his casual finish in the 100m and his amazing performance into a headwind, theoretically we can say yes. However, as we have seen many times before, it is difficult to predict if Bolt’s career will continue to thrive and improve unimpeded. After watching Bob Beamon in 1968 travel 8.90 meters in the long jump and Kevin Young of the USA run a blistering 46.78 at the 1992 Olympics, many people were anticipating more great things. But neither athlete came close to their previous performances. Can Usain Bolt and his coach ensure that this young talent will continue to improve and not be negatively impacted by super-stardom, injuries or other possible impediments? It is difficult to say.
As I had mentioned before, Bolt is expanding the limits of human performance and entering a domain where no human being has ever been before. While it is an exciting time for him, it is also fraught with greater risk and unpredictability. Deep inside, we all know he can run faster. The question is, will he get the right opportunities and conditions to run faster?
Should anyone else bother trying to compete with Usain Bolt?
After Bolt’s amazing run, the Canadian broadcasters were amused by how light-hearted and supportive his competitors were, commenting that past Olympics were very adversarial contests. There was no trash-talking or stone-walling occurring. Just hugging and high fives all around. I can explain this very easily. When you know you are going to get your ass handed to you, and the outcome is very obvious, there is no stress. There were two different races going on during the 100m and 200m competitions: Usain Bolt versus the World Records, and then everyone else racing for silver and bronze. It is very much like the celebrity golf tournaments when Charles Barkley plays with Tiger Woods. Lots of high fives and goofing around with Bill Murray. There is no doubt or debate as to who is the best.
But it does leave other sprint athletes with the tough task of goal setting for 2009 and beyond. Striving for personal bests is nice, but shooting for World Records and gold medals may not be as realistic in the 100m and 200m. In 1988, there wasn’t the same issue after tremendous performances by Ben Johnson and Florence Griffiths-Joyner. Ben was banned and FloJo retired. I believe that much depends on how Bolt’s training and prepartion goes, not on what other athletes do. Will Bolt be healthy and ready to defend his titles and records? If he is, there will be lots of high-fiving, laughing and dancing around with the other competitors.
Should Bolt consider training for the 400m and add a third sprint world record to his tally?
I would certainly love to see him try. It is unlikely that his 100, 200 and 400 meter training could co-exist, but he could shift to a 200-400m program and be succesful in both. If I were Bolt, I would spend some more time working on the 100 and 200 (as it’s obvious there is some potential for improvement) and see how things work out. It is not advisable to be greedy and try to dominate all the sprint events. It will be interesting, however, to see if he keeps training for the 100 and 200 events, but throws in the odd 400 meter race to see where he is at – likely in the early part of the competitive season.
Has Usain Bolt revived the excitement in Athletics and sprinting?
For the time being, yes. He is a hot commodity, and meet promoters will be interested in having him headline their events. It will be interesting to see how things play out for the next year and if WADA sinks there teeth into more athletes from Track and Field. A Greek hurdler and a Ukrainian heptathlete have tested positive in Beijing, with Athletics providing two out of the four drug positives to date at the 2008 Olympics. While drug positives are not the best thing for Track and Field in the short-term, it’s much better than the past habit of covering up drug positives in an effort to sweep the skeletons into the closet. Usain Bolt has the potential to be the savior of the sport, but we still have a long way to go.