1. Sports

Gary Shelton at the Games: Usain Bolt leaves no doubt he is the fastest man ever

Usain Bolt crosses the finish line in the 100-meter final in 9.63 seconds Sunday, the second-fastest 100 in history and an Olympic record. He and Carl Lewis are the only men with consecutive gold medals in the Summer Games’ marquee track event. Story, 8C
Published Aug. 6, 2012

LONDON — Zip, zing and zoom.

Also, zowie.

That fast, and it was over. That fast, and all the doubts about Usain Bolt turned into declarations. That fast, and he was the Fastest Man on Earth all over again.

In the greatest race in the history of the Olympics, the greatest racer of them all established his legend Sunday. It was a breathtaking 100-meter run, skid marks followed by blurs and completed with a vapor trail. It was perhaps the fastest any man has ever run into immortality.

If you looked away, you missed it. Bolt broke the Olympic record in 9.63 seconds, and if he hadn't had an ordinary start, he might have broken his world record of 9.58. It was raw, unimaginable speed. Any faster and the Jamaican might have broken the sound barrier.

There has never been a race like this. Think of it like this: Any other Olympic 100-meter runner — any runner who has ever raced without being disqualified — would have finished no better than fifth in this race. Consider this: American Justin Gatlin won the gold medal in 2004 with a time of 9.85; this time he ran 9.79. And he finished third.

Think about it this way: Richard Thompson of Trinidad and Tobago would have won the gold in 21 Olympics with his 9.98. In this race he finished seventh. Or this way: Ben Johnson, the steroid-fueled runner who raced away from the world in 1988 in 9.79 before testing positive, would have tied for third in this one.

What a show it was. Four runners in the field — Bolt, runnerup Yohan Blake of Jamaica, fourth-place finisher Tyson Gay of the United States and last-place finisher Asafa Powell of Jamaica — are responsible for the 20 fastest runs in history.

And Bolt blew them all away. He started slowly, and he ran with the pack for a few meters. Then he looked like a sports car passing city buses. Watching Bolt was like watching, well, a lightning Bolt.

Catch him if you can? In a big event, no one can.

This time there was every reason to wonder if he could win. Maurice Greene, the 100 gold medalist in 2000, picked Blake. Two-time gold medalist Carl Lewis had his doubts. So did Edwin Moses and Michael Johnson and Ato Boldon and a lot of other track luminaries.

"This really means a lot because a lot of people doubted me," said Bolt, 25. "A lot of people were saying I wasn't going to win. I didn't look good. There was a lot of talk. It was an even greater feeling to show the world I'm still No. 1, I'm still the best. That's what I do. I show up on the day."

Oh, you can't blame the skeptics. Bolt has appeared beatable for some time now. He lost to Blake in last year's world championships and again in this year's Jamaican Olympic trials. Yes, Bolt had been fabulous in winning gold in Beijing in world-record time, but that was four years ago, before the riches and the fame and the injuries. Who knew how much hunger remained? Who knew if Blake had taken his place?

Now the world knows. It learned that in a hurry Sunday.

For goodness' sake, Bolt's victory lap was faster than most Olympic champions', even if you consider the finger wag, and the adore-me pose with his arms spread out, and the somersault, and the flag-draping, and the two fake arrows fired into the air, and the mugging for the cameras with Blake.

There is a delightful goofiness to Bolt, a wonderful sense of flair. Yes, he seems fully aware of his stardom, but who can blame him for that? Of all the people who have ever run across this planet, no one has ever done it faster than Bolt.

"He's the Michael Phelps of our sport," Gatlin said. "He's the greatest sprinter of all time. He's a showman. Is he arrogant? Is he cocky? I don't think so."

Then again, no one had asked Gatlin about arrogance or cockiness.

After this race, no one is going to doubt Bolt is a legend. Well, one person. Bolt.

"It's one step," he said. "I still have the 200 meters (he begins his gold-medal defense in that Tuesday). If I win that, I'm a legend. This is one foot in the door. That's the ultimate. If I get to be a legend, I've achieved my goal."

There is a reason the 100-meter run is the signature event of the Olympics. It is sports at its most basic, eight men simply trying to put one foot in front of the other faster than everyone else. That's why the winners of the 100 are so memorable, from Jesse Owens to Bob Hayes to Lewis.

None of them ever ran like this. Even if you adjust for today's better training, better nutrition and faster tracks, you wonder if any of them could. Now ask yourself this: Could any of them have done it in back-to-back Olympics? That's part of the magic, too. No other man in the history of the Olympics has crossed the 100 finish line as the winner two Olympics in a row. (Lewis won in 1984 but finished second in '88 and took the gold only when Johnson was disqualified.)

"Repeating is harder than anything else," Bolt said. "Sometimes you lose sight of what's going on around you. The trials woke me up. It opened my eyes."

Sunday, Bolt opened the eyes of the world. He also opened the eyes of the other runners. If they looked hard enough, they could see him disappearing into the distance.


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