Usain Bolt retained the Olympic 200 metres title last night in a packed Olympic stadium, leading a Jamaican sweep of the podium. He finished in 19.32 seconds, equalling the third-fastest time ever run, with his training partner Yohan Blake second in 19.44 and Warren Weir third in 19.84. The wind, such as it was, blew at 0.4 metres per second on their backs.
Such is Bolt's prodigy that some will be disappointed that he failed to break his world record. However, it is worth recalling that his winning time was exactly the same as the world best set in 1996 by Michael Johnson in Atlanta, and which was trailed as likely to survive for decades. Bolt has broken it twice, and holds three of the four best times ever. Blake holds the other.
Drawn in lane seven, which was kind on his long legs, Bolt destroyed Blake on the bend. He was two metres clear on hitting the straight, eyes flicking left to lane four. There was no sign of Blake and he strode home majestically. His compatriot came back at him but could not get within a metre.
The only athlete from the United States in the field, Wallace Spearmon, was fourth in 19.90. It is the first time there has been only one US athlete in the final since 1928, save when the US boycotted Moscow. European champion Churandy Martina was fifth (20.00) and Frenchman Christophe Lemaitre sixth on 20.19. This is the first time four men have been under 20 seconds in an Olympic final, the first time that anyone has retained both the men's Olympic 100m and 200m titles, and the first time that the same man has coached the first two at both distances.
The man who had posted a picture of himself in his room with three Swedish handball players as he celebrated his 100m victory was the epitome of cool. He was calm as you like before the start, golden monogrammed baseball cap back to front. He chatted and joked with a volunteer, presenting her with a pin badge. He made a fist and bumped knuckles with Blake.
Standing on the start line he lifted a wheeshing finger to his lips and lowered his open palms a couple of times, urging quiet. Blake made his trademark claw-handed sign of The Beast but he was not scaring Bolt.
Lemaitre had the fastest reaction to the gun, at 0.153. Bolt, on 0.180, was sixth quickest out of the blocks. But Bolt was quickest into his stride, and left the world behind. At the finish he hugged Blake, and they joined Weir in wrapped themselves in the flags of their country and going on a lap of honour. Bolt fashioned his flag like a scarf and applauded the crowd.
How good is Bolt? The statistics flowed thick and fast last night and superlatives were stamped out as rapidly as the drink sponsor's bottle tops. But perhaps as telling as any is that since the iconic Carl Lewis set his fastest times of 19.75 (in 1983) and 9.86 (1991), Bolt has elevated both events to a stratospheric level. The Jamaican runs both distances half a second faster.
Lewis and Jesse Owens have been regarded as the finest sprinters in history, with their four gold medals in 1936 (Berlin) and (1984). But no more. Their era was consigned to history as Bolt added the 200m to the 100m title on Sunday. Bolt now stands supreme in the sprint pantheon.
Eight men: Archie Hahn (1904), Ralph Craig (1912), Percy Williams (1928), Eddie Tolan (1932), Owens (1936), Bobby Morrow (1956), Valeriy Borzov (1972), and Lewis (1984) have won both the 100m and 200m in the same Olympics. Only Hahn and Lewis successfully defended the short sprint.
Scotland's Allan Wells was denied the double by just two hundredths of a second in Moscow in 1908, when beaten by Pietro Mennea, in 1980. In Mennea's home, Wells was known as The Beast, for his bullish physique – ironically the same nomme de guerre as Blake has adopted. Wells was an rapt spectator last night.
Owens never had the opportunity to repeat. World War II intervened. That Lewis failed to repeat is a commentary on how hard it is to win both titles back to back. True, Lewis was nursing jump aspirations as well when he tried in Seoul, but he was narrowly but firmly edged by his young Santa Monica Track Club training partner, Joe DeLoach (19.75 to 19.79). It was his only defeat in an individual Olympic final.
Shoe and track technology has improved, as has sport science, medicine, conditioning, and nutrition. It is as invidious to compare the greatest sprinters as it is to measure heavyweight boxers of different eras. But since we have the stopwatch to do so, it is inevitable.
Bolt is simply the best. Blake pushed him close, but Weir was the only man to run the fastest of his life.
Blake will need more nightshifts to catch his rival. He gets up in the night to train. His philosophy is evocative of Olympic decathlon champion Daley Thompson, who used to train on Christmas Day, because rivals did not. It was Blake's psychology is: "When you're sleepin', I'm workin', toilin' through the night. It's what great men do."
Bolt said he had come through "a rough season, and I did what I had to do. It's what I came here to do. I'm now a legend, I'm also the greatest athlete to live. I am in the same category as Michael Johnson. I am honoured. It's all about Michael for me. I grew up watching him break world records. He's a great athlete."
"The 200m was harder than I expected. I could feel the pressure coming off the bend, and that's when I had to focus. It's all about the 4x100m now, to have some fun and go out there and do our best. Jamaica has proven that we are the greatest sprint country. I've got nothing left to prove. I've showed the world I'm the best and, right now, I just want to enjoy myself. This is my moment. I'll never forget this."
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