Somebody please make it stop.
That Jamaican, he keeps messin' with our heads.
Usain Bolt keeps doing things that shouldn’t be done. Things that boggle the mind.
He makes older sprinters start to think about other careers. He makes liars out of track commentators.
Today, at the world championships in Berlin, he ran the 200 meter sprint in 19.19 seconds. And he won going away with the largest margin of victory in that race in Olympic or world history.
That’s two world records in one week. Five world records in his last five championship races.
Before the race, Bolt strolled around the track taking in the atmosphere while sporting a Jamaican warm-up shirt with the slogan: “Ich bin ein Berliner.”
He traded fake punches with fellow competitor (and fellow goof-off), American sprinter, Wallace Spearmon.
He moved toward the camera, put his right hand, then his left hand “through” his hair and said to the world: “Come get me.”
At that point, no one but Bolt thought he’d set a world record - let alone win.
Days earlier, American sprinter Shawn Crawford called Bolt a dragon, followed by, “but I’m a dragon slayer.”
Um, not this time.
"His exertions this week have taken a lot out of him," said Mr. Johnson, whose 200m world record was broken by Bolt in Beijing last year in the Olympic final when the Jamaican ran 19.30 seconds. "He's also been very busy and he looks tired. It is certainly less possible than it was a few nights ago. Also he has said that his training this year hasn't been as good as last year."
Moments later, Boldon was noshing on crow.
Bolt led from the get-go and by the midway point he was meters ahead of a pack of the world's fastest runners. He crossed the finish line with a grimace.
“He made a liar out of me tonight,” said Mr. Boldon. “That’s what I get for doubting the Lightning Bolt.”
“This might be the biggest and greatest world record he’s broken,” Boldon said, explaining that the track world had thought Bolt would struggle for a long time to get anywhere near 19.20.
MJ, Tiger, …. Bolt?
This all begs the question: Is it too early to start talking about Bolt in the same breath as other athletes whose performance literally changed their sport, champions such as Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods?
Too early? The answer has to be an emphatic “No.”
Bolt isn't a flash in the pan. A flash, yes. He's proven he can consistently shatter world records – one after another. That just does not happen. Period.
He's now the first man to ever hold both the 100 and the 200 meter world and Olympic records.
Cynics say it has to be drugs. Unfortunately, given the number of disgraced sprinters caught doping in recent years – most of whom, it must be said, have been Americans – people do ask that question. In time, the truth will win out. Till then, there’s no reason to presume guilt.
Too tall to run?
One way his times may be explained is his build. Sprinters aren't supposed to be tall.
Typically, people with Bolt’s lanky, 6’5” frame cannot match the times of stocky sprinters. They can’t turn their strides over quickly enough. Bolt, somehow, can. So, he’s got the turnover of his stockier peers, but the length of stride of a longer-distance runner. It’s kind of like the flipper-like feet and double-jointed arms that give top swimmer Michael Phelps an edge.
And then there’s the fact that Bolt is Jamaican. Let’s face it, Jamaica has replaced America as the top sprinting nation. And it’s a long-time coming, given the country’s love of the sport, the fact that it’s one of few tickets out of poverty, and that the world’s best coaches now come from there.
(Read my story from Jamaica about why the country breeds so many top sprinters.)
While reporting that story in Kingston, I met with supercoach Stephen Francis of the MVP track club, which stands for Maximizing Velocity and Power. The maverick coach certainly doesn't give tips from his own experience. The rotund man's fastest time may only be to the nearest jerk chicken shack.
Seriously, though, he's done wonders.
Today, Jamaican Melaine Walker became the latest MVP star to win a gold medal during these championships with her win in the 400m hurdles. She follows the fastest woman in the world, Shelly-Ann Fraser (Jamaican gold in the 100m) and Brigitte Foster-Hylton (and yes, Jamaican gold in the 100m hurdles).
“The MVP group out of Kingston, Jamaica, is having a fantastic championships,” said Boldon, when describing Melaine Walker’s gold medal in the 400-meter hurdles.
It's the yams, stupid!
Here's my theory: The reason people think these are drug-assisted victories is that when we watch Bolt it looks like WE must be on drugs. It's an other worldly experience.
Jamaican sprinters were so tired of getting tested for drugs during the Olympics last year that they started joking about the International Olympic Committee cooking up a new list of banned substances. No. 1 on that list, they laughed, would be yams - the staple of a rural Jamaican diet.
In fact, Bolt's garish designer track shoes are the result of that inside joke: bright orange because that's the color of cooked yams.
What do you think is going to be on the training menu of US and European sprinters next week?