Once you blow away the world, simply running wondrously isn’t enough.
The question becomes: When will you blow us away again?
Usain Bolt yesterday nipped two-hundredths off Michael Johnson’s 19.32 mark in the 200 meters set at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, a mark once thought unassailable. In doing it, the Jamaican also won his second gold medal of the Beijing Games.
But, in the afterglow of his 100-meter performance Sunday, it was as if the 200-meter record didn’t really matter.
Bolt was a 200-meter specialist until May. Then, in his fifth 100-meter race, he exploded into world-record contention with a 9.76-second finish. He broke 100-meter record in late May, a 9.72. He broke it again it Sunday, laughably, pulling up after 60 meters and cruising home in 9.69 seconds.
So, when he crushed the field by more than a half-second yesterday, lowering his personal best by 0.37 seconds – well, that was neat, but … what’s next?
Will he chase Johnson’s 400-meter record?
Will he seek to lower the 100-meter record further?
Will he apply for citizenship and run alongside Barack Obama?
“To tell you the truth, I just want to chill out right now,” he said, typically cool. “I want to sleep. I wish I was in sandals right now.”
His sandals will have to wait until after Friday, when he runs with the 4x100-meter relay team.
And then, he can bask in his significance.
He brought his island nation great pride.
And he resurrected a sport tainted into cartoondom by performance-enhancing drug use.
“It’s great for the sport,” said Great Britain’s Christian Malcolm, who finished fifth. “He’s lively. He’s fun. He plays to the crowd. I mean, his last name’s Bolt. And he’s only 21.”
Twenty-two, actually, today.
After Bolt kissed the track and shimmied through a Jamaican dance, the stadium’s loudspeakers played “Happy Birthday” to Bolt as he took his victory lap, wrapped in Jamaica’s flag.
“Right now, in Jamaica, the run is flowing and the reggae is playing!” crowed Dr. Herb Elliot, a medical member of the Jamaican contingent.
“We have the best coffee in the world! We had Bob Marley, who gave the world a new religion!” said Olivia Grange, a Jamaican information minister. “And we have Usain Bolt! … He means so much in every corner of Jamaica. Every man. Every woman. Every child.”
But … what’s next?
Sprinters don’t usually reach their peak until their mid-20’s. Johnson was 28 in Atlanta. Carl Lewis, the only other 100/200 Olympic champion (in 1984), was 30 when he ran the best 100 of his life, at the 1991 World Championships.
“He’s got to get to 26, 27, 28, before he hits his prime,” said former world-record hurdler Renaldo “Skeets” Nehemiah. “He’s beautiful to watch. Poetry in motion.”
Johnson had said earlier in the day that Bolt might fade in yesterday’s race; that Bolt’s training might not hold up through this late date in the meet. After yesterday’s 200, Johnson called Bolt “Superman Two” on a BBC broadcast.
Bolt credited using the 400 meters as a training tool before concentrating on speed work lately – that, and his enduring love of the 200, born when he won the world junior 200 meters at the age of 15.
“I can’t explain it,” he said.
His love for the race explained his performance. In contrast to his 100-meter cruise, when he spread his arms and pounded his chest for the last few dozen meters, Bolt yesterday ran through the line and leaned at the end.
“This is a fast track. I told myself that if I’m going to get that world record, I’m going to get it here,” Bolt said.
He felt it coming:
“I knew I would go that fast. I’ve been running fast times and shutting down (at the end).”
Then he glimpsed himself on television. He couldn’t help but pause and watch, and think:
“I just blew my mind. And blew the world’s mind.”
The world can’t wait until it happens again.
Movin’ on up!
A pair of sloppy racers supplied a bizarre subplot to Usain Bolt’s world-record performance in the 200-meter final.
Both second-place finisher Wallace Spearman of the U.S. was immediately disqualified after the race for stepping out of his lane. The U.S. protested that disqualification, then accepted it.
However, upon reviewing the film, the U.S. noticed that Netherlands runner Cherandy Martina, who crossed the finish line in third, also stepped out of his lane. They protested Martina’s race and won the protest.
As a result, U.S. sprinter Shawn Crawford was moved from fourth to second and U.S. sprinter Walter Dix moved from fifth to third, which meant a silver and bronze medal for the U.S.
“I ran my race. I did my best,” Martina said.
“Wallace Spearman stepped out. The second place guy stepped out,” said Crawford. “Hopefully, Usain stepped out, too. That’s a gold for me!”