LONDON: Any doubts that Usain Bolt is the greatest sprinter to grace an athletics stadium were swept away in 9.63 seconds at the London Olympics on Sunday evening.
The Jamaican’s winning time in the 100 metres final was just five-hundredths of a second outside his own world record and he became the first man to cross the line first in successive Olympic finals.
Carl Lewis is the only other man to retain the 100 title, finishing second to Ben Johnson at the 1988 Seoul Olympics before claiming the gold medal when the Canadian was disqualified for a positive dope test.
Third-placed American Justin Gatlin compared Bolt to Michael Phelps, who retired from competitive swimming on Saturday night after winning a record 18 Olympic gold medals. Lewis is one of four athletes who have won nine.
Now Bolt will attempt to do what no man, including Lewis, has managed by retaining the 200 title.
“I just had to show the world I was the greatest,” Bolt said.
“It means I’m one step closer to being a legend. Now I have to run the 200. I’m looking forward to it, it’s my favourite event.”
Sunday’s clash between Bolt and his Jamaican training partner Yohan Blake, who finished second, had developed into the most eagerly awaited 100 metres race since the Lewis-Johnson matchup in Seoul.
OWENS AND LEWIS
The compact, muscular Blake won the world title in Daegu last year after Bolt false-started and then beat his compatriot over both the 100 and the 200 at this year’s Jamaican trials.
A sore right hamstring was given as the explanation for Bolt’s sluggish starts in both races, a frequent injury for the Jamaican in his early years because of a chronic condition which causes his spine to curve to the right.
Due mainly to his unusual height for a sprinter of 1.96 metres (6ft 5in), Bolt has always had problems unwinding out of the blocks.
But such is his phenomenal acceleration between 30 and 60 metres that, given a respectable start, no sprinter in the world can live with him as he proved again on Sunday night.
Any discussion about the best sprinters in history would start with the incomparable Jesse Owens, winner of gold medals in the 100, 200, long jump and 4×100 metres relay at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
Lewis replicated Owens’s feat at the 1984 Los Angeles Games and won four Olympic long jump titles in a row.
Bolt, though, has taken sprinting into a new dimension.
He clocked a world record 9.69 seconds at the 2008 Beijing Games followed by another world record 19.30 seconds in the 200, breaking a mark set by Michael Johnson in 1996 that statisticians had predicted would last at least 25 years.
“WALKING ON THE MOON”
In Berlin he set the present mark of 9.58 in the 100 and reduced his 200 record to 19.19. World records customarily broken by hundredths of a second had fallen by a tenth.
“He’s the equivalent of the guy walking on the moon for the first time. He’s done something that no one has ever done before,” Gatlin said before Sunday’s race.
Bolt’s heroics came the day before Jamaica celebrates 50 years of independence from Britain, a fact noted by Bolt who said it was a great honour to still be the world number one.
Celebrations will start on Sunday at Tracks & Records, a bar-restaurant in the capital Kingston which is part-owned by Bolt.
A Caribbean island of fewer than three million is now the unquestioned centre of world sprinting after Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce retained the women’s 100 metres title on Friday with another Jamaican Veronica Campbell-Brown in third place.
Jamaica already had a distinguished sprinting history which started when Arthur Wint, a medical student who had served in the Royal Air Force in World War Two, edged team mate Herb McKenley to win the 400 metres gold at the 1948 London Games.
McKenley, who qualified for the finals of both the short sprints as well as the 400, was later a coach and administrator.
In 1976 Don Quarrie, second to Trinidad’s Hasely Crawford in the 100, won the 200 for Jamaica at the 1976 Montreal Games.
Jamaican-born Linford Christie (Britain) and Donovan Bailey (Canada) both won the Olympic 100 metres title for their adopted countries.
On the women’s side Merlene Ottey won two world 200 metres gold medals and was still competing for her new country of Slovenia at the age of 52 at this year’s European championships.
Jamaica contributed fully to the great West Indies’ cricket team who temporarily united the Caribbean islands during the 1980s. Michael Holding was the fastest bowler in the world and he was succeeded by Courtney Walsh who became the first man to capture 500 test wickets.
A land of eternal sunshine also bizarrely produced a bobsled team, who competed at the 1988 Calgary Winter Games.
The team became the inspiration for the film “Cool Runnings”.