If Week 1 of the Olympics was all about a great champion apparently proving his doubters wrong, It now looks like Week 2 will be the same.
Usain Bolt absolutely blitzed the field in the 100-meter dash final on Sunday to cement his place in the pantheon of the greats. Prior to the Olympics, there was speculation Bolt wasn’t fully fit and that a new star would be born in London. The speculation had intensified after Bolt was beaten easily in the Jamaican trials by the powerhouse Yohan Blake. However, just like with Phelps in the pool, we weren’t going the see the supernova of one of the stars that shone the brightest in the last Olympiad.
We got a strong indication of this in the second semifinal earlier in the night: Bolt eased to a time of 9:87, practically jogging the last 20 meters. Only the third fastest qualifier, but if he had been any more comfortable, he would have fallen asleep.
2004 Olympic Champion Justin Gatlin qualified with the fastest time at 9:82, and he was looking particularly bullish, bumping chests with surprise runner-up Churandy Martina of the Netherlands after the first semifinal.
Bolt’s main rival and fellow countryman Yohan Blake qualified second fastest in the third semifinal with a time of 9:85.
As the finalists entered the track prior to the start of the final, the tension in the stadium was palpable. Though, it was the kind of electric tension that precedes any seismic event. We awaited a thunderstorm of athletic brilliance.
This was the most anticipated 100-meter dash final since 1988, as all the fastest men this season had qualified for the final. All eight men had run under 10 seconds this season, and all bar Richard Thompson had run sub 10 in the semis.
If the crowd was tense before the race, Bolt and Blake were certainly doing nothing to dispel the image of laid-back Jamaicans. Both were smiling, throwing shapes and seemingly trying to outdo each other in a funny face competition as well. Bolt easily won that competition too. His charismatic nonchalance was once again shining brightly through.
The starter’s pistol fired and the world’s fastest men exploded. Bolt started better than he had in the Beijing final, straightening up to his full 6'5" frame much quicker, as he moved smoothly through the drive stage. Gatlin had also started well and Gay was running strongly. Yohan Blake’s compact muscular frame was powering into contention.
Bolt was going to have to work this time.
In the Beijing Olympics, Bolt’s rivals had looked like they were running in treacle; in London, the finalists at least looked like they were running on the same surface.
Four runners were in contention as they hit maximum velocity.
Then it was time for the contenders to see Bolt’s back once again as he smoothly turned on the after burners. Blake was running the race of his life, driving past first Gay and Gatlin, but it wouldn’t be nearly enough to catch lightning.
No easing up or waving on this occasion as Bolt crossed the line in an Olympic record of 9:63. It was the second fastest sprint of all time. Blake followed him home, twelve-hundredths of a second slower. A Jamaican one-two.
Gatlin dipped quicker than Gay to take bronze with a time of 9:79. Gay will be disappointed with his finish as he had a real chance to take bronze or possibly even silver. Gatlin was delighted with his bronze, sometimes even Olympic champions know they have been outclassed.
The crowd acclaimed Bolt. He is the first man to win two back to back Olympic 100-meter sprints on the track. Carl Lewis, of course, received his second gold after Ben Johnson’s disqualification in 1988.
Like Phelps, Bolt transcends his sport and transcends nationality. Track has never had such a charismatic champion.