Only a man who has run 19.19 and 19.30 could make a 19.40 seconds 200m seem, well, a little pedestrian.
But that was just what Usain Bolt did in winning his second consecutive World Championships 200m gold medal on Saturday night. He ran 19.40, with a stunning drive off the bend and keeping the power on pretty well all the way to the line. Two metres slower than a personal best usually makes for a ho-hum performance, but not this one.
All year there have been questions about Usain Bolt. Had he lost so much through his injury-interrupted 2010 and, by the high standards he had set in 2008 and 2009, his lacklustre 2011 that he might be vulnerable, even beatable, in Daegu.
The whispers became more insistent when Bolt somehow managed to false start his way out of the 100 metres final, which was won by his young training partner Yohan Blake.
On Saturday night, the whispers were confounded in even less time than it took Bolt to win. He came around the bend with Walter Dix, one lane to his outside, looking vaguely poised to issue a challenge in the final straight.
But the American merely ran the last portion of the turn, Bolt shot off it as if he had come out of a slingshot. Suddenly he was one, two, three metres clear and going away.
Bolt led the world list with 19.86 coming into Daegu. No-one other than his countryman Nickel Ashmeade at 19.95, was sub-20. Yet Bolt dragged Dix to 19.70, his fastest time since his personal best 19.69 in 2007. He pulled France’s Christophe Lemaitre to a national record 19.80 and a bronze medal, and Jaysuma Saidy Ndure to a 19.95.
So some big personal and season’s bests for the three behind him, but also the disturbing thought: if this is what Bolt can do in a down year, what can he do next year at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Lemaitre atoned for a disappointing run in the 100m final, when he appeared to dwell in the blocks when the race got under way for real after Bolt’s false start and missed a medal. His 19.80 was not only a massive person best – 0.36 seconds – but second only among Europeans to Pietro Mennea’s former world record 19.72 set at high altitude in Mexico City at the 1979 World University Games.
So 2011 has brought improvement for the young Frenchman at both sprints but, like the rest of the world, his path to the top is still blocked by Bolt.
Dix has been one of the few athletes in the world this year to at least talk up the possibility of beating Bolt. Clearly, he was a long way from doing that, but he comes away from Daegu with two individual sprint silver medals and the prospect of another crack at Olympic glory next year.
Len Johnson for the IAAF