Brussels, BelgiumOf all the glittering stars shining on an unseasonably pleasant September night in the Belgian capital, none shone brighter than the Jamaican sprinter Yohan Blake, who ran the 200m in 19.26sec at the Belgacom Memorial Van Damme – Samsung Diamond League meeting on Friday (16).
Blake's race had been pencilled in as one of the highlights of the traditional end-of-season finale but he managed to completely upstage his training partner and friend Usain Bolt with the second fastest time ever over the distance - only Bolt's World record of 19.19 is better - and even more remarkably, he had not run the event since he finished second in Ostrava on May 31.
Slow start scuppers World record
His reaction time of 0.269 was the slowest in the nine-man field, giving rise to speculation that Bolt's time from the 2009 World Championships might have been consigned to history if he had have got going in 0.16 or better, which three men in the field did manage to do.
“I knew I was in good shape, perhaps I was going to do something crazy because I've been training with Usain and going pace-for-pace with him,” explained a breathless Blake after the race, gasping for air not because of his exertions but because of the adrenalin and exhilaration running through his veins.
“Nevertheless, I'm still a bit surprised with 19.2,” he added, which might be a candidate for the understatement of the 2011 athletics season.
A slight surprise to many observers who had been curious about how the Daegu 100m gold medallist would tackle the longer distance, which he didn't run at the recent World Championships and after not dipping under 20 seconds over the distance this year, Blake opted to run in lane seven in the Stade Roi Baudouin / Koning Boudewijnstadion.
However, he had been given the choice at the technical meeting beforehand on Thursday after his rival and Diamond Race winner Walter Dix – who had virtually secured his trophy and US$40,000 first prize as long as he was on the start line in Brussels - had been given the favoured lane six.
“I'm not a good turner, negotiating the bends is difficult for me, so my coach, Coach Glen Mills, told me just to be patient but I'm definitely a slow starter and I was slow here but I didn't mind that Dix was behind me, that wasn't a problem.”
“I can go faster, if I'd have run the corner some more then it (a World record) would definitely have been possible.”
Blake the good pupil
“I was watching the 100 (which Bolt had won in 9.77 just a few minutes before the 200m men went to their marks) and so I knew the track was fast. Usain spoke to me just before the race; nothing much, we were just having fun, but Coach Mills told me 'Remember what I told you,' and I did, running a good second 100m,” added Blake.
The big question is, what could happen when Bolt and Blake are on the start line over 200m next year, a spectacle that the appreciative Brussels audience were denied due to Bolt's tender Achilles tendon which precluded him running around a bend.
“I'm not looking forward to racing Usain but anything can happen on the day,” reflected Blake, not daring to look into the crystal ball.”
Bolt himself confessed to be amazed at what he witnessed in Brussels.
“I thought he'd run 19.5, not 19.2 but I thought to myself after the race, 'I should da been in that race.' It isn't too often that four people in the same race go under 20 seconds; and Yohan Blake is still young, he's got far to go.”
World Athlete of the Year candidate?
Blake has also probably propelled himself into the reckoning as a candidate for the World Athlete of the Year which will be decided in a two months’ time, with a stunning time now to add to his 100m gold medal from Daegu and despite three defeats to his name earlier in the season, not counting his 400m season opener.
In a year when no individual man has set a World record outdoors at a championship event, running the second fastest 200m time ever will get him plenty of supporters.
One of them is his training partner Bolt, who was posed the question, “Would Yohan make a worthy candidate for the honour you won in 2008 and 2009?”
“I certainly think so after what he did here,” replied Bolt who, despite his ever buoyant exterior, must certainly be wondering now whether he might soon having to settle for being second best in at least one of his specialities.
Phil Minshull for the Samsung Diamond League