If Usain Bolt is worried about losing his aura of invincibility, he sure didn't show it on Saturday.
One night after he lost a stunning 100-meter final at the Jamaican Trials to training partner Yohan Blake, Bolt loafed through his 200-meter semifinal, finishing in a pedestrian 20.26 seconds. That came mere moments after Blake ran a 19.93 to win his heat.
For the second day in a row, Blake looked the better man.
It's not the times, though, that should have Bolt fans worried. Bolt can and will run faster in the upcoming final.
But one has to wonder, 24 hours after one of Bolt's most confounding professional failures: Where's the fire? Where's the fight? And, more ominously, are Bolt's competitors starting to believe that they can beat him?
Since 2008, Bolt has been among the most revered athletes in any sport. His logic-defying times and absurd margins of victory have rendered him untouchable.
With all that mythologizing there comes a competitive advantage. Other athletes hope to keep pace with this flash of human flesh, but rarely do they feel it is a real possibility. Bolt has them beaten before they get to the line.
You can bet some of that advantage evaporates every time Bolt loses or looks underwhelming.
Blake knows he can beat Bolt.
Asafa Powell knows he can beat Blake, and by extension Bolt.
You can take that logic on down the line to Justin Gatlin, Tyson Gay and even Kim Collins.
"It's very complicated, someone was saying to me that in order to beat Bolt I'll have to run 9.5sec. What I explained is that to beat Bolt he has to just go slower than me...If he goes 9.5sec that day I can't catch him, I can't run 9.5sec, that's not on my plate. When Bolt runs slow one day, I can beat him."
That quote came just one week after Bolt ran a sluggish 10.06 in Ostrava, Czech Republic. Collins finished second in that race, and the confidence gleaned was clear.
Collins knew he had a chance, if only Bolt would open the door.
And now Bolt has done just that. Worse yet, he seems in no hurry to shut it.
I suppose it could be a good thing that Bolt didn't come racing out of his spikes in a meaningless semifinal just to prove his detractors wrong or intimidate his competition. It shows restraint, perspective, maturity.
But at what point does maturity become indifference? And what point does his indifference motivate the hungrier, less accomplished athletes around him?
Perhaps Usain Bolt is just playing coy. But in doing so, he runs the risk of losing his edge.
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