Aug 21, 2008

Sports - Unstoppable Bolt

BEIJING — The margin of victory seemed almost impossible, his finishing time a sport-shattering moment. Four days after Usain Bolt electrified track and field with a world record dash for the ages in the 100 meters, he might have outdone himself in a disqualification-marred 200 on Wednesday night.
Bolt, Jamaica’s wunderkind, surged so far ahead of a stellar Olympic final field that his last 50 meters elicited nothing but awe. Running hard through the finish, Bolt not only ran 19.30, breaking the world record by two-hundredths of a second less than two hours before his 22nd birthday, but he seemed to set new parameters on what humans can achieve. And he did it with trademark Jamaican style, taking off his spikes and dancing when it was over, seeming to wrap the entire crowd at the National Stadium in his long embrace. He watched the replay on the big video scoreboard along with everyone else.
“I was saying, ‘I look cool,’ ” Bolt said. “I was just happy. I was just looking at myself and I was like, ‘That guy’s fast.’ I’m just proud of myself. It’s just a great feeling. You can’t really explain it.”
In this race, Bolt wanted to show what he could do when he is serious. In the 100, he stopped racing with about 10 meters to go, threw out his arms and slapped his chest before he crossed the finish line. That made his time of 9.69 — three-hundredths of a second better than the previous world record — that much more astonishing, because it could have been so much lower.
In the 200, which he considers his strongest event, Bolt overpowered the field in the turn. He entered the straightaway so far ahead that the only questions left were how much he would win by and would he break the world record. The record was 19.32 seconds, set by the American Michael Johnson in his possibility-altering moment at the 1996 Atlanta Games. Until Wednesday, no one other than Johnson had run faster than 19.62. Bolt’s previous best was 19.67.
“A lot of people compare me to Michael Johnson,” Bolt said. “But I don’t like to compare myself to other people because I just try to be me. Michael Johnson was a great athlete. He revolutionized the sport, I just changed it a little bit.”
Bolt, though, clearly underestimated what he had done here at the Olympics. On the biggest stage for his sport, he rewrote two of its most revered records. The 200 record in particular seemed unassailable.
The most startling part was Bolt’s ability to do it so young. “It’s ridiculous,” said Kim Collins of St. Kitts and Nevis, who finished sixth. “How fast can you go before the world record can’t be broke? How fast can the human being go before there’s no more going fast?”
Behind Bolt’s staggering achievement, the rest of the race got complicated. Churandy Martina of Netherlands Antilles crossed the finish line second in 19.82 seconds, more than half a second after Bolt, and Wallace Spearmon of the United States crossed third. But shortly after the three apparent medalists started a victory lap, the scoreboard showed Spearmon had been disqualified. But no one told Spearmon, who was celebrating by running around the track with the American flag.
Later, in protesting Spearmon’s disqualification — which was upheld because Spearmon ran out of his lane in the curve — American officials pointed out that Martina had stepped out. After a review, officials of the International Association of Athletics Federations, track and field’s international body, disqualified Martina.
That meant that the Americans Shawn Crawford and Walter Dix won the silver and bronze medals.
When he heard about the rulings, Crawford, the gold medalist in the 200 at the Athens Games, shook his head in disbelief.
“Oh Lord,” he said. “O.K., so Wallace Spearmon stepped out? The second-place guy stepped out? Hopefully, Usain stepped out, too, and I’ll get the gold medal. If two people stepped out, it’s a gold medal for me.”
Crawford laughed when he said that, but he was genuinely empathetic toward Spearmon.
“He’s put in four hard years of work like everybody else here, worked his heart out like everybody else to make it to the final,” Crawford said. “It’s heartbreaking. I share his pain right now.”
The sports minister for the Netherlands Antilles, Omayra Leeflang, was furious about Martina’s disqualification and blamed the United States team.
“It goes against the whole spirit of the Olympics,” Leeflang said. “The spirit of the Olympics is to come together in the spirit of fair play. A small country like ours, we did not come here as victims. I think it’s a pity for a big country like the United States to make such a small statement.”
The confusion in the placements behind Bolt seemed to be part of another universe. He had finished so far ahead, won in such commanding fashion, that everyone else seemed to be participating in a separate event.
“What Bolt has done, he’s made history,” said Crawford, whose time was more than six-tenths of a second slower than Bolt’s. “He added spirit to the sport. He danced for us in the introduction. He danced for us at the end. He put on a show. To me, I feel like him and athletics is like Michael Phelps and swimming. He raised the bar for us in athletics.”
Bolt became the first person since Carl Lewis in 1984 to win the 100 and the 200 in the same Olympics, and the first to do it while breaking both world records.
“You have people who are exceptions,” said Stephen Francis, the coach of Bolt’s main Jamaican rival, Asafa Powell, the former 100 world-record holder. “You have Einstein. You have Isaac Newton. You have Beethoven. You have Usain Bolt. It’s not explainable how and what they do.”
Now the biggest question is what might be next for Bolt and the sport he has changed forever.
“I didn’t think I’d see under .30 in my lifetime,” Renaldo Nehemiah, a former gold medalist in the 100 hurdles for the United States, said of Bolt’s 19.30. “He’s doing something we’ve never seen before, but he’s a freak of nature. He did it at 14 and he did it at 17. Most people aren’t surprised he could do it. They might be surprised he did it here, but it was inevitable.”

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