May 31, 2008. A stormy night in New York but that didn’t bother Usain Bolt. Running only in his fifth 100-metre race, he clocked 9.72 seconds to set the world record.
He was called as ‘Lightning Bolt’ in Jamaica. That night, the nickname took first steps towards becoming a legendary one. That night, convinced the then 21-year-old to compete in the fastest sprint format on regular basis. Till then, he used it as a preparation for his favoured 200-metre dash.
Two and half months later, he banished all the doubts of him being a one-hit wonder by becoming the first man to dip below 9.7s – 9.69 to be precise to take the 100-metre gold at Beijing Olympics. He then wiped off 0.2 second of Michael Johnson 200-metre world record by clocking 19.30 to complete the sprint double.
At the 2009 World Championships in Berlin both record were rewritten. He clocked 9.58 in 100m and 19.19 in 200m – both of which still stand. His feats gave the sport a new lease of life. The ‘Bolt Mania’ was on the ascendency.
Those were the days when Bolt was free of injuries and ran without shackles. Over the years, the wear and tear means he has to curtail his natural instincts as a result of which the both the world record have stood since Berlin Worlds. Some predicted he will be the first man to dip under 9.5.
Behind the facial expressions and the giggles lied a steely determination to succeed at all cost, which has resulted in four individual Olympic gold and seven at World Championships.
All along, he destroyed his opponents. Asafa Powell was still the favourite going into the 100m final at Beijing Games but lacked mental toughness. Seeing Bolt fly, sunk Powell further and finished out of medals. Powell, who held the world record at 9.74 before Bolt rewrote it, was never the same force after that night in the Chinese capital.
Also, Bolt's ability to rise to the occasion is what separates him from the rest. Take his buildup to the London Games, which was anything but ideal. He was beaten to the post – in 100 and 200 – at Jamaican trails by newbie Yohan Blake. He wasn’t happy about the new starting blocks introduced that year and a hamstring injury before the Games didn’t help his cause either.
On track he had to battle fastest-ever athletes in the 100-metres history. Blake was high on confidence, Tyson Gay and Justin Gatlin were there to restore the American pride and Powell was still lurking around.
By the time it was over, Bolt had quelled the rivals, set the second fastest time in 100m at 9.63 and became only the second man after Carl Lewis to win to 100m gold. It’s termed as the best-ever and was the fastest-ever 100m dash with seven of the eight athletes clocking below sub-10 seconds.
Longevity is a rare among sprinters. In recent past, Olympics have seen some of the greatest ply their trade from Lewis to Linford Christie to Donovan Bailey to Maurice Green but barring the first name none was able to do a double in Olympics till Bolt came along.
Going in to Rio Olympics, Bolt will have an opportunity to become the undisputed No 1 sprinter, if he is not already, when he chases his third-straight gold in 100m. The icing on the cake will be if he does the same in 200m and 4x100m relay to complete the triple treble.
His preparations haven’t been ideal with most of the time spent nursing injuries with the recent one coming at the Jamaican trails. But a fully-fit Bolt is expected to breeze over the line with only real challenge expected to come from Gatlin. Only the American has managed to come close to the Jamaican in recent times.
The last year’s World Championships in Beijing was the closest one for Bolt. While he took the gold in 9.79 seconds, Gatlin finished just 0.01 seconds behind. That was Bolt’s fastest time of 2015. Once again putting his head down when it mattered.
Till that moment, Gatlin was the one with speed behind him. He even set his personal best of 9.74 second three months before the Championships.
As always, Bolt is expected to gather all together on the biggest stage of all – The Olympics.After all, he thrives on such stages, he lives for it and that’s what has made him the ‘Fastest Man on Earth’.