BeijingComedian, nonconformist, diplomat, World record breaker - all in one night. The extraordinary Olympic performance of Usain Bolt here yesterday evening extended far beyond his stunning 9.69 in the men’s 100m.
If it was possible for one man to match the fireworks, theatre and sense of history of the opening ceremony in the National Stadium then Bolt achieved it. And he followed it up with more gold medal entertainment at the post-race press conference.
In a room packed to the walls by the world’s media Bolt – as he had in the race – made a good start and was always in control. He walked in munching a power bar and, without thinking this wasn’t the usual thing, continued to eat it while answering questions.
But it wasn’t arrogance. There wasn’t a hint of such a thing despite a run which had provided such a rich feast for statisticians, historians and those who like to speculate how fast man can go. It was just typical of the laid-back new Olympic champion.
Most significantly, apart from the fact that he broke his own World record by three-hundredths of a second despite starting his celebrations some 15 metres from home, Bolt is Jamaica’s first Olympic 100m champion.
All of this in his first season of serious 100m running. He hadn’t even broken 10sec before this year and, here he was, making the first sub 9.70 run look like he was easing down in a first round heat. In fact, he was more a 200/400m sprinter before turning to the 100m.
First the comedian. This being the Olympics, the questions from reporters come from all angles. “Take us through the day of the world’s fastest man,” one requested. “What did he have for breakfast?”
“I never had breakfast,” Bolt said, pausing for a moment while those assembled laughed. “I woke up at like 11 o’clock, sat around and watched some TV, had lunch, some nuggets (yes, chicken nuggets), then I pretty much went back to my room, slept again, then went back and got some more nuggets. Then I came to the track.”
Still he was the nonconformist as he continued to chew on his power bar while the questions came and the cameras flashed. But Bolt then turned diplomat.
Is this going to hurt Asafa Powell emotionally, he was asked of his fellow Jamaican and the former world record holder? How could it not, we thought, but Bolt, whose first love was cricket before he turned to athletics, played a dead bat.
“I can’t say,” Bolt began. “I know Asafa and he is a great athlete, we’re friends. He had a rough season at the start of the season. He had a couple of injuries and I know next season he’s going to be coming back storming.”
And Tyson Gay, the World champion from the US, who was eliminated in the semi-finals? “I’m looking forward also to Tyson Gay – I’m looking forward to competing against these guys next season,” Bolt said. Looking forward to it? His work isn’t remotely finished here yet.
Bolt confirmed that he would contest the 200m which means that, come Friday, the day after his 22nd birthday, he could be celebrating his third Olympic gold medal of these Games in the 4x100m.
So how fast can he go? In a 100m final during which he took several glances to his right to see where Powell was before easing down, splayed his hands down to hip- height, then moved his right arm across to beat the left side of his chest, there was clearly scope for him to have gone quicker.
What did Bolt think? “I have not seen the replays yet so I can’t really say. People have been saying I could have run 9.60 but I haven’t seen the replays yet so I couldn’t really comment on that.”
And, coming next to a track in Beijing, the first threat – albeit still a long shot – to Michael Johnson’s 200m world record of 19.32 set at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics (9.20sec for the second 100m). This writer thought, when he saw it, that the mark was unlikely to be challenged before a sub two-hour marathon was run but now I’m not so sure.
Next question to Bolt. Can we expect you to break Johnson’s World record here? “I’m not really worried about world records,” he said. “My aim is just to win. There’s a lot more time to think about that.”
In fact he was probably the last person in the stadium to know that he had set a World record last night. “I wasn’t worried about the World record,” he said. “I didn’t even know I’d got the World record until after I had finished my victory lap. One aim was to come here and be Olympic champion and I did just that – and I am happy about that.”
However, should Bolt succeed in erasing Johnson’s name, he would become the first man to set world records in the 100 and 200m at one Olympics. Both records have fallen in the same Olympics on two occasions but, each time, to different men – to Jim Hines (100m) and Tommie Smith (200m) in 1968 and to Donovan Bailey (100m) and Johnson (200m) in 1996.
Growing up the parish of Trelawny, Bolt was more a 200 runner to begin with. He won his first medal – silver at 200m - at the annual high school championships in 2001. In the same year he was second at 200m and 400m in the Carifta Games – the Caribbean regional championships. But he was eliminated in the semi-finals of the 200m at the World Youth Championships, in Debrecen, Hungary.
Bolt made first big impression in 2002 when he won the 200m at the World Junior Championships on home territory in Kingston, becoming the youngest male World junior champion at 15 years 332 days. In 2003, he went down an age group to take the World Youth 200m title.
By now he was firmly on the radar and he won the IAAF Rising Star award for men in 2002 and 2003. Turning professional in 2004, Bolt became the first junior to break 20sec (19.93) but leg injuries destroyed his hopes for the 2004 Athens Olympics and he was eliminated in the first round of the 200m.
Last of eight in the 2005 World Championships final, in Helsinki, and runner-up in the World Cup, in Athens, in 2006, Bolt was still a 200m man but, in 2007, he demonstrated his versatility when he lowered his 100 and 400m bests to 10.03 and 45.28. In the same season, he improved to 19.75 for 200m, breaking the 36-year-old national record of his hero, Don Quarrie.
Quarrie, not a man given to exaggeration, said last night that he thinks Bolt can break Johnson’s record. Now what was Bolt’s time for his second 100m here? His celebration around the bottom bend seemed almost as fast as his world record 100m. For now let’s just call it the unofficial fastest celebration in history.
David Powell for the IAAF