Jamaican Usain Bolt sets new record but can he run faster ?

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Jamaica’s Usain Bolt, who prior to this season had not run a 100-metre race as a senior, won the ultimate sprint prize, the Olympic final, in 9.69sec, breaking his own world record set three months ago.

By Pat Butcher in Beijing

Headed briefly out of the blocks by the adjacent runner, Richard Thompson of Trinidad, Bolt, 21, accelerated into such a comfortable lead that, 20 metres from the line, he turned to the crowd on his right, spread his arms as if to say: “what about this?”, and crossed the line two metres ahead of his pursuers.

Thompson clocked 9.89sec, a personal best, to win the silver, and Walter Dix of the US won the bronze.

“All I wanted to be was champion; I already had the world record,” said Bolt after the race. Asked how far and how fast he can go, he replied: “I have no clue.”

Becoming a champion

Bolt’s compatriot Asafa Powell, who had been seen as one of the favourites to win, once again failed to deliver. Third at one stage, he faded to fifth, emulating his performance in Athens four years ago.

This was a perfect example of a junior prodigy going through a period of quiescence as a senior, before emerging into the floodlights of fame.

Bolt was not even 16 years old when he won the world junior 200 metres title on his home track in Kingston. But he laboured initially in the senior ranks, finishing last in the world championships in 2005, before taking silver behind Tyson Gay of the US in last year’s world championships in Osaka.

Always a 200 metres runner, it was only this season that Bolt persuaded his coach to let him try the 100. Even Powell said he was surprised at how well his compatriot ran.

Saturday’s race, featuring six Caribbean and two US sprinters, saw the biggest margin of victory since Bob Hayes of the US won in Mexico 1964. A few seconds after Bolt’s victory, he held up one of his gold-coloured sprinting spikes to a camera, which picked out the print along the side, “Gold in Beijing”. The stadium erupted, as sound engineers piped reggae music into the Bird’s Nest.

In the semi-finals two hours earlier, Bolt had signalled his intent with a 9.85sec, achieved by shutting down after 80 metres and doing just enough to stay ahead of the chasing pack.

The other semi was closely watched, as it pit Powell against Gay for the first time since the latter had demolished the giant Jamaican in Osaka last year. Gay had not looked good in the second round the previous day, leading to speculation that he had not recovered from the injury sustained in the US Trials six weeks earlier. So it proved. Gay finished fifth in 10.03sec, thus out of the final.

Made in Jamaica

Despite such luminaries as Herb McKenley, Lennox Miller, Don Quarrie, and the ageless Merlene Ottey on the distaff side, a Jamaican had never won the Olympic title until Saturday night. Until Veronica Campbell won the world title last year, it had been the same there. There have been three Jamaican-born men’s winners, Linford Christie in 1992, Donovan Bailey in 1996, and the infamous Ben Johnson in 1988, but they came gift-wrappd in the Union Jack and the Maple Leaf.

On the evidence of the second round heats of the women’s sprint on Saturday night, another Jamaican victory is likely. And a 200 metres double – by Bolt and Campbell – is not beyond their compass.

Stories of Bolt’s laid back disposition are legion, with a new one arising on Saturday. A volunteer in the call room, where athletes assemble prior to their races, reported that Bolt was chatting up one of his female colleagues and getting her phone number just minutes before his second round race.

The Financial Times

Beijing Olympics 2008  The 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China takes place between August 8 and 24. This dossier focuses on the hopes, aspirations, and achievements of athletes from the African continent.
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