Usain Bolt's Next Challenge: 400 Meters

Red Shannon@@rojosportsFeatured ColumnistMarch 1, 2010

Amid the concluding weekend of Vancouver's Winter Olympics and the NFL's pre-draft scouting Combine, an insignificant yet noteworthy event occurred on the small Caribbean island of Jamaica.

Insignificant, because the person of interest was a distant runner-up in a 4X400 meter relay race.

Noteworthy, because that second-place finisher cranked out one of the fastest 400 meter "split" times ever. Even shutting down early in his anchor leg of the relay, he recorded an astounding split of 43.58 seconds.

Consider that Michael Johnson's world record is only 0.40 seconds faster.

Of course, split times in individual relay legs are highly unofficial and never count toward world record status. All but the starting leg are timed with the advantage of a running start, but split times are indicators of an athlete's inherent abilities.

Michael Johnson's fastest split time ever was 42.94, for comparison.

The athlete in question—and the person of interest—is none other than Usain Bolt. He had received the baton nearly 30 meters behind the leaders in Saturday's Gibson Relays. Scorching the track, he passed most of the field to finish just 0.44 seconds behind the winner.

Did I mention that it's still Winter in the northern hemisphere and the outdoor season hasn't even officially commenced? Or that Bolt doesn't focus his training on the 400 meters? Or that he doesn't particularly care to—unless his coach insists?

Perhaps it's time to insist.

Bolt already dominates the short sprints, holding world records in the 100 meters (9.58) and the 200 meters (19.19) as well as a piece of the 4X100 relay (37.10).

His tall stature and long stride are uniquely suited to the quarter mile.

No one in history has ever owned all three distances. Interestingly, Johnson thinks Bolt has the goods to be the first, and possibly only person ever to do so:

"...every now and again along comes an athlete for the times and I believe Usain Bolt is that athlete. It happened to me in 1996. It happened with Carl Lewis in 1984 and Jesse Owens in 1936...and now it is happening for Usain Bolt."

Common sense would say 2010—without a World Championships or Olympics—is the best season to train specifically for the 400 meters. While his speed-oriented 100 meters might suffer marginally, the stamina training required for the 400 would only enhance Bolt's 200 meter race—just in case his chief rivals in the short sprints, Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell need any extra motivation.

The current top runners in the world at 400 meters, LaShawn Merritt and Jeremy Wariner, have been teasing track fans—hovering just above the 44 second mark. A little nudge from the likes of Usain Bolt would do wonders for the event—and for Track and Field in general.

A triple crown in the 100, 200 and 400 would ensure Bolt's lock on the title, Greatest Sprinter of All Time , but Lewis and Owens might still have something to say about the title, Greatest Athlete of All Time .

For that honor, Bolt would have to excel in the long jump as well.

And for that event, Bolt's coach would find a willing participant:

"I tell my coach I'd love to try the long jump before I retire ...because I think I'd be very good!"

Long jump world-record-holder Mike Powell agrees:

"With his height, he is the type who would scare me...he is off the charts. He is destroying other athletes, making them look like kids."

Since Bolt hasn't trained in the long jump, the transition to that discipline would likely come later in his career, still a long way off.

At only 23, Usain Bolt's best days are still ahead. His pure athletic talent is undeniable. A failure to maximize his potential would amount to one of sport's most tragic untold stories.

It seems an eventual world record in the 400 meters by Bolt is just a matter of time. A world record in the long jump is still a matter of speculation.

Bolt's explosion on the Track and Field scene since Beijing has rejuvenated a sport which had been declining since the 1990s. A move up to 400 meters now would only increase the momentum of his career—and the interest level in one of the oldest and greatest of sports.


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