It's fair to say that the reports of Usain Bolt's demise were very premature.
The defending Olympic champion silenced all of the doubters again with a world-leading 9.76-second 100-meter dash at the Rome Diamond League meet on Thursday. Bolt built off of a decent start that left him a step or two behind his main rivals—Asafa Powell and Kim Collins—and strode away majestically from 40 meters on.
After running a pedestrian 10.04 in Ostrava last week, Bolt's form was in question from all corners of the track world. His start looked slow, his lift in the middle merely ordinary, and even his finish lacked the characteristic invincibility that is his trademark.
Worse, of course, was the time—shocking for a man who consistently runs "video-game times," as track analyst Ato Boldon likes to put it.
Lost in all of the talk about Bolt's slowest professional 100-meter final were several significant contextual factors that indicated that any talk of the end of Bolt's reign was way too early.
First, the conditions of last week's race were far from ideal. The entire sprint program in Ostrava consisted of slow times, and the weather wasn't warm enough for elite performances.
Second, forgotten in all of the post-race hysteria about the time was the fact that Bolt actually won the race and dispatched competitors, including the 2011 World Championships bronze medalist Kim Collins.
Lastly, we must not forget the timing of the race. Ostrava is a relatively low-key meet compared to the packed venues and stadiums Bolt is accustomed to entertaining. It would be insane to think Bolt was keying on the race like he would in a stage like the Olympics. Moreover, the race was also Bolt's first race after arriving in Europe, a notorious formula for under-performance.
Leading up to Thursday's race in Rome, Bolt appeared more mystified by his Ostrava race than worried. He even took the liberty of taking a somewhat arrogant shot at American sprinter Justin Gatlin in the build-up.
Evidently, Bolt's confidence was warranted. As the Golden Gala meet began, he entered the Olympic Stadium with somewhat less playful antics than usual. His subtle change in demeanor seemed to suggest the seriousness of the occasion.
As the race grew nearer, Bolt looked looser. Moments before the race, he danced for the cameras, covered his face with his hands and struck his trademark lightning pose.
The race unfolded as most with Bolt do. His start was decent, but it was his last 60 meters that separated him from the rest of the world.
Make no mistake, Bolt did work hard in this race. There weren't any mid-race celebrations, and his only indulgence were a couple quick glances at his competitors in the closing meters.
Still, this was the phenom we're accustomed to seeing. Not a 10.04 man, and certainly not a vulnerable one either.
Usain Bolt is back and firmly on the way to defending his 100-meter Olympics title in London. Anyone who thought one mediocre performance could sink him was as far off on the man as his competitors were Thursday in Rome.
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