It's a question that's been on the tip of everybody's tongue since Yohan Blake did the unfathomable and took down Usain Bolt twice in Kingston at the Jamaican Olympic Trials:
Can Blake beat Bolt in London?
After round one of these sprint heavyweights' showdown, the answer appeared to be a resounding no.
But the 100-meter dash and the 200-meter dash are different animals, and Bolt's superiority in the longer event is in a far more tenuous state than in the 100.
While Bolt holds a .17-second edge in personal best in the 100, a wide gulf in a nine-second race, his advantage in the 200 is a mere .07 seconds.
In addition, Blake has demonstrated in Kingston a repeatable way to beat Bolt in the event. Whereas in the 100-meter win, the result was more about Bolt running a technically poor race and starting awfully, the 200 was about Blake doing the unthinkable.
In that race, he exhibited greater speed endurance than Bolt and used it to run him down in the final meters.
If he is to beat his teammate again, he is going to, at the very least, match Bolt's absurd top speed in the home stretch. Bolt is an exemplary turn runner, and he has patched up his drive phase considerably since his twin setbacks in June.
The circumstances at which they meet now are far different from that of a month ago.
First of all, Bolt's hamstrings appear to have fully healed. He's put any injury worries to bed with that 100-meter triumph.
Second of all, the stage is that much bigger, and the stakes are that much higher. This is exactly when Bolt tends to give us his transcendent performances and separates himself from anyone in history.
The incomparable Jamaican set an Olympic record in the 100, and that didn't even require a perfect start or something of that nature. Blake, meanwhile, equaled his personal best.
That's all well and good, but many would have thought he could improve on that performance with the favorable trailing wind, a super-fast track, and the ultimate stage to run his best ever.
Athletes like Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay narrowed the gap on him within that race. Just equaling what he's done earlier in the season performance-wise isn't going to do it for him in the 200.
Blake desperately needs something special like the blistering second half of the race in his personal best 19.26-second performance. Even Bolt was taken aback by that performance, which made Blake the second fastest of all-time.
If Blake starts well he should be within striking distance of Bolt after the first 100. He has the advantage of the inside lane (Blake is in lane 4, Bolt is in lane 7) and will be able to watch his rival's every move.
At that point, it will all come down to natural talent, belief and preparation. Bolt admits Blake outworks him and gives more effort in training and in preparation. It's how he got his nickname, "The Beast".
In a short event like the 100, Bolt's incredible physical gifts might be enough, but in the 200, Blake's superior work ethic could be pivotal.
Bolt does things like eating McDonald's as part of his pre-race ritual and partying with Swedish handball players at three in the morning. Blake, meanwhile, does things like doing push-ups while he watches TV, if the BBC broadcast is to be believed.
When it comes down to it, those extra hours of commitment and his better focus could make all the difference. Both Bolt and Blake are in superb form. They have the same renowned coach and are given the same workouts.
Blake attacks them harder and is more committed to track. He is extraordinarily talented, like Bolt, and is fearless. He believes he can beat Bolt and even better, he knows he can.
Bolt's going to have to beat him; he won't coast on reputation.
So can Blake overcome the talent gap to Bolt and pull off one of the great upsets in Olympic history?
It just seems impossible that anyone can overcome Bolt's unprecedented talent.
Then again, I'm the same guy who never saw Bolt losing twice in Jamaica or Blake chopping off six-tenths of a second to run his 19.26.
Blake certainly has shocked Usain Bolt before. Once more, and we'll know for sure that among Bolt's challengers, we've found a different "Beast".
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