Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Usain Bolt Fan Club

UPDATE 1: See video of Bolt's semifinals here.

UPDATE 2: Click here to see the official results from the 200 meter final. I won't ruin the result, in case you want to wait twelve hours to see it on NBC.

His 100 meter gold medal, and world record, generated a lot of talk. ESPN's Jim Caple sarcastically (I hope) suggested he should have done even more while showing up the rest of the field. CNBC's Darren Rovell thinks that Bolt wanted to put more money in his bank by saving his sub 9.60 time for the next Olympics, or something. Bolt himself just said he was happy to win the gold medal and dismissed talk about the world record. Tyson Gay, unable to qualify for the final, said "I was in awe," following Bolt's win. It's quickly the talk of the Olympics, preventing a post-Phelps letdown.

Earlier I suggested what would be a shocking development as these Olympics near its final days: can the 200 m record, which has stood solid since 1996, fall on Wednesday? Judging by the first few rounds of qualifying, I think it's a serious possibility. Once again, Michael Johnson's 19.32 broke a 17 year old record in Atlanta, and since then only five runners have eclipsed the earlier world record. Bolt will be competing against two of them: Walter Dix (Personal Best: 19.69 and Wallace Spearmon (PB: 19.65), both from the US. Bolt, meanwhile, is the only one who's gone below 19.70 this year, running a 19.67 on July 13.

The preliminary rounds aren't much of a contest for the top runners, and Bolt cruised into the finish line in second place, at 20.64. He just had to be in the top three to ensure he would move on to the next round, the Quarterfinals. The video of his second round race can be found here, starting at the 6:00 mark. Just like in the 100 meter final, Bolt eases up with about 10% of the race still to go-- with about 20 meters to go the unofficial clock reads 18.6 seconds. Even with the ease-up, he crushes Crawford, the runner up, 20.29 to 20.42. Interestingly, sixth-place finisher Amur Seoud from Egypt set a national record at 20.55, and didn't qualify for the semifinals.

Twenty-four hours later, Bolt, Crawford, and Spearmon all competed in the second semifinal. In the first, American Walter Dix settled for third place, behind a season-best from Zimbabwe's Brian Dzingai, and a 20.11 from Churandy Martina, which was a national record for the Netherlands Antilles and the fastest 200 meter run so far. The time wouldn't last long, when Bolt's heat took the track. Spearmon and Bolt were goofing around before the race (and continued it afterwards, when Spearmon put "bunny ears" behind Bolt's head during an interview). With a much higher level of competition, Bolt didn't look phased at all.

Running out of lane six, Bolt had made up the staggered-start on Spearmon (Lane 7) and Kim Collins (Lane 8) within the first fifty meters, and never looked back. Crawford was leading the pack as they crossed the halfway point, but Bolt's freakishly long strides ended that rather quickly. At the 50 meter mark, they were tied, and the unofficial clock read 16.4 seconds. Both men appear to ease up, and looking at the replay, "ease" is too weak an adjective to explain what Bolt is doing along the last few meters. He's jogging, with no more apparent effort than someone just doing their warmup jog before a baseball game. Still, Crawford slows down a bit more than Bolt, who crosses the line at 20.09. Spearmon overcame his terrible start--his reaction time (elapsed between gun and first movement) was 0.196, worst out of all the semifinaliss-- and crossed the line third, wagging his suspiciously blue-tinted tongue at Bolt.

At this point I think the three Americans, who all would normally have an excellent shot at Gold in the final, will be racing for a silver medal. The real question is whether Bolt can chase down Michael Johnson. Despite Johnson's initial reaction following the 100 meter final, the world record holder expressed doubt, and predicted a 19.5x for Bolt in the final (which would still be the fastest time in twelve years). Donovan Bailey, former 100 m record holder predicts "if he gets someone to push him through the corner, we could see something unbelievable. I'm thinking between 19.22 and 19.26."

There are certainly some strong turn runners in the final- Crawford and Dix are among them. By getting the fastest time, Bolt will have the best lane, #5, right in the middle of the track. In front of him will be Spearmon, Dix, Martina, and Dzingai. If he can make up the stagger on the first three before the home straightaway, that's the first sign it will be a magical event. Similarly, it was not until the final 100 meters that Michael Johnson pulled away and set the extraordinary mark. But if Bolt is well ahead, as all indications suggest, will he strive for that mythical air below 19.40? Following his semifinal, Bolt promised he would go all out in the final.

For a sport that has been devestated by one doping scandal after another, it would be a huge boost to the popularity of track and field if Bolt can break the 200 meter record, and do it "clean." Bolt himself has been tested seven times since he arrived at the games, so there can be no doubt of his dope-free running. To those who consider such training regimens to be cheating, a clean Bolt holding the first 100-200 double since Carl Lewis, and breaking two world records, would return a lot of legitimacy to the sport.

Other T&F News and Notes: The Men's Long Jump was won by Panama's Irving Jahir Aranda Saladino with a jump of 8.34 meters. I mention this because the standard for "omg that was amazing" events in Olympic track history was Bob Beamon's 8.90 meters in 1968. No one had ever cleared 28 feet in the long jump, and Beamon was the first to clear not only 28 feet, but also 29 feet (8.90 m = 29 ft, 2.5 in). Event officials were not even equipped to automatically measure a jump of such distance. Despite controversy that Mexico City's altitude aided the jump, no one equaled Beamon's level for 23 years, and still remains the second longest jump of all time and an Olympic record. Imagine the aura surrounding Michael Johnson's 200m record times 1000. If you haven't seen the jump, here's a youtube video.

Also, congratulations to Rashid Ramzi, who became the first ever gold medal winner from tiny Bahrain, an island nation in the Persian Gulf, winning the 1500 in 3:32.94. Even though the NBC retards said he was from Qatar in their graphic, he ran a great race and outpaced two Kenyans who had been leading the first three laps of the race. He may soon be joined by Roqaya Al-Gassra, who won her quarterfinal heat of the 200m earlier today and will compete in the semifinals on Wednesday. You'll recognize her; she's the one in the aerodynamic hijab.

Finally, some video of Bolt with some speedy fingers, racing himself on pumarunning.com, getting the "video game times" that the NBC announcer talked about after the 100 meter final:

He got 9.69 on the video game, which was posted a week before the 100 m final. Cue creepy music...

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