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The fastest & the greatest

Jamaican sprint ‘legend’ breaks myths, landmarks in greatest 100m race of all time. Sukhwant Basra reports. Meals before the big race | High five | Perfect 10... almost

india Updated: Aug 07, 2012 16:40 IST
Sukhwant Basra
Sukhwant Basra
Hindustan Times
Tyson Gay,Olympic 100m final,Sukhwant Basra

The “greatest race of all time” threw up one startling fact that more than justified the label. Figure this: Tyson Gay finished fourth in the London men’s 100m final in 9.80 seconds; that time would have seen him win every other Olympic 100m final held before Beijing. Even at Beijing he would have only been second to Usain Bolt’s 9.69.

But far more than the best field ever, this was a race about the greatness of one man. This time around Bolt had none of the swagger that he had at Beijing.

There was no exaggerated chest-thumping and out stretched arms before the finish. The man who would prefer to be called ‘legend’ went for the tape text book style like a kid at a high school race — chest out, arms pulled back, eager to ensure he was fastest.

That he was really wary of Yohan Blake was betrayed by his eyes which kept darting to his left, sizing up just where ‘The Beast’ ran.

Ego rules
100m runners are built like bulls except that they run like panthers. It’s the most egotistic athletic discipline. After all, when you deal in fractions you can’t afford to give an inch — that’s probably all the space doubt needs to lodge inside the cerebral equation to upset the delicate mental balance that makes you believe that you are the fastest in the world.

During warm-up, away from the glare of world TV, they may laugh and joke around a bit but when the tracksuits have come off, the fastest men in the world turn terribly shy. They all stare into the distance and they don’t look at each other. Each one has his own ritual before the start. High five

The showman
Bolt, of course, comes up with endearing, exaggerated cartoonish gestures. He mimics a DJ, a gun slinger, makes a certain fingers-mimicking-a-run gesture, shushes the crowd and ends with a prayer.

That he encapsulates all this into the few seconds that it takes to announce his name underlines the fact that he is not just the greatest sprinter the world has seen he’s also the greatest showman out on track.

Beyond barriers
This was a night that Bolt would break a couple of myths. First, there is that thing about lousy starts. With a reaction time of 0.165 seconds after the starter bang, Bolt was off the blocks before both Yohan Blake (0.179) and Justin Gatlin (0.178).

There was intense speculation that his back may not have recovered and that there was bad blood between him and Blake ever since the latter beat him at the Jamaican trials end-June. The way his back held up as did the apparent camaraderie between the two after the race, certainly finished off that bit of news.

Grooming the rival
After all, Bolt has had the magnanimity to allow Blake to train with him under his own coach Glenn Mills. His greatness extends to the fact that he alone is responsible for grooming his best rival to date.

While everybody else secreted away with their trainers, fiercely practising their secret regimes to gear up for the Games, Bolt was in the news for pranging his fancy BMW car in the wee hours driving back from a party in his hometown of Kingston. Had he had one, two, many?

Apparently whether he did or not, it made no difference as he became only the second man to win the 100m in two Olympics.

Some may even say he’s the first as Ben Johnson had pipped Carl Lewis to the post at Seoul. Then, subsequent exposure of systematic blatant drug use by athletes forever tainted the records of a certain generation of winners.

Michael Phelps became the greatest Olympian ever but there is something brutal and basic about the 100m run that makes it far easier to relate to. Far easier to accept as the moment of the Games.

Perhaps the secret to that is that at least 80,008 people participated in the 100m final. That’s the men on track and the official capacity of this particular arena. Phelps may have swum on dainty but the explosion that brings the world to a standstill is unique to the men’s 100m final.

Perfect 10... almost

First Published: Aug 07, 2012 00:26 IST