It is odd to hear Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt profess his love for a distance, as though 655 feet and 327 feet are two blushing girls in chiffon standing on the other side of a dance floor.
But for Bolt, it is unquestionably true.
His 100-meter dash Saturday was a romp – a pajama party to which all Beijing was invited. Tonight, in the 200, Bolt was a man on a mission.
It did not matter that the race was over tens of meters before the finish line – as it was Saturday. This time, there was no coasting, no arms outstretched in boyish elation.
There was only a number: 19.32 seconds – the world-record that Michael Johnson had set at the 1996 Atlanta Games. Bolt was running with a phantom of 12 years past, and the rumble that built in crescendo as he neared the finish line was not merely the crowd, it was Bolt himself, bearing down upon history like a train.
That he won the race – by more than a half second – seemed almost an afterthought. The better measure of the race was that new number: 19.30 seconds.
Bolt bent down to kiss the track, something he did not do Saturday.
The 200 meters is his prom queen – or, perhaps more accurately, his first love.
“The 200 has been my love since I was 15,” he said in a press conference afterward. “I was the youngest ever world junior champion.”
In the 100, he noted, he had the world record even before the Olympics. Now he has the 200 – Olympic gold and world record – to complete the set.
The mere manner of it will raise questions in the summer sport most often linked to doping. In the 100, Bolt shaved only 0.03 seconds off his previous personal best (which happened to be the world record). In the 200, his new world record is 0.37 seconds better than his previous personal best of 19.67 seconds.
But in Bolt’s defense, Johnson did almost exactly the same thing in Atlanta. In June of that year, he set a personal best of 19.66 seconds. Little more than a month later, he ran 19.32 seconds.
Besides, everyone knew Bolt was going to do it eventually. So young, so gifted, and so perfectly built for the 200, Bolt would someday put it all together and “I will be able to kiss my record goodbye,” said Johnson in a pre-race press conference.
Some day came before the night was out.
“I told myself I was going to leave everything on the track,” Bolt said afterward.
Except the world record, of course.