Usain Bolt is the best sprinter in the world—when he wants to be.
The 26-year-old Jamaican runs like he is the child of Derice Bannock and a Greek goddess.
He has taken home gold at the 100-meter sprint, 200-meter sprint and 4x100-meter relay at the last two Olympic Games as well as the 2009 World Championships. At the 2011 World Championships, he was only shorted the "Triple Golden" because of a false start in the 100.
He easily holds the world record for the 100 and the 200.
But in early June, 31-year-old American Justin Gatlin defeated Bolt at the Golden Gala meet in Rome, signifying the Jamaican's first significant defeat since that infamous DQ in Daegu:
So, what exactly did it mean? Did Bolt just have an off day? Was he out of shape? Is he still out of shape?
Or is Gaitlin simply faster than him now?
Luckily for those who were most compelled by such questions, the World Championships in Moscow would provide the answers. And fortunately for Bolt, it would serve as a stage for him to demonstrate once and for all that he is still the fastest man on the planet.
After Saturday's opening heat, however, one thing is clear: Bolt needs to be better.
He won his heat to advance to the semifinals on Sunday, but as you can see, he didn't exactly dominate:
"It was a good run," Bolt said. "Just all about getting through to the next round. Took it easy and got it done."
But, you see, that's the problem. Taking it easy is what he does far too often. He takes these nonchalant approaches to opening heats and semifinals, seemingly jogging through the first 90 meters before casually strolling across the finish line.
At some point, as the gap between him and the rest of the world shrinks—as it surely has in the last few months—that kind of approach is going to come back to bite him in a bad way.
I understand maintaining stamina, but I also find it difficult to believe that jogging across the finish line—instead of sprinting across it—is going to make a difference.
With many questions surrounding Bolt this week, he needs to cut the mellow act. He needs to stop running like Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds" is playing in his head (which, ironically enough, was playing throughout the stadium on Saturday). He needs to come out and run a hard race, lowering the hammer and showing that he means business.
Not only will that send a message to Gaitlin in the final—when others think you're beatable, you become beatable, and vice versa—but it might even be necessary with American Mike Rodgers, who had the fastest time on Saturday, potentially setting the pace.
Bolt is still the best sprinter in the world. But if he wants to prove it on one of the grandest stages, he can no longer "run easy," as Gaitlin put it.
He did that in Rome—and lost.
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