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Rio 2016: Crown rests easy on mellowed king Usain Bolt

The Jamaican begins his quest for an unprecedented treble-treble by clinching the 100m in an exciting contest with Justin Gatlin

olympics 2016 Updated: Aug 16, 2016 06:55 IST
Sukhwant Basra
Sukhwant Basra
Hindustan Times
Usain Bolt,Athletics,Rio 2016
100m gold medallist Usain Bolt of Jamaica poses after the medal ceremony in Rio on Monday.(REUTERS)

Eight years ago, at Beijing, Usain Bolt was more in your face. His histrionics more pronounced, his cockiness dripping from his swagger, his 21 years apparent. But then he was the man who would be king. Now that the crown rests easy, he has mellowed down.

At London, interacting with reporters after equalling Carl Lewis’ record of two consecutive Olympic 100m gold, he called himself a legend. At Rio, after becoming the only man in the 120-year history of sprinting at the Games to claim three, he did not volunteer a new epitaph. But when prompted was quick to say that he was now “immortal”.

The blatant strut is no longer as overwhelming, and so now when he says things like “the only other man who could have broken the 400m record is me”, referring to Wayde van Niekerk’s record run the same evening to shatter Michael Johnson’s 17-year-old mark, he is all the more believable. Bolt says incredible things with a deadpan expression which implies that he is not boasting, just letting you know. Like: “I told you guys I wanted to set myself apart from everybody else and this is the Olympics I wanted to do it… I just want to be amongst the greats.” Or: “To do this three times is a big deal. No one has done it, or even attempted it. Hopefully the dream won’t stop. It’s a good dream ’cause they never catch me.”


Before this man came along, a presumption that really tall men couldn’t sprint as fast had become belief. It was believed that the gangly 6’5” frame would not be able to propel as well as the 6’2” of Carl Lewis. Look at Bolt’s video from the Athens Games. He was half the size he is now. But then the 17-year-old boy filled out to become the beast with 15 inch plus biceps and 41+ chest astride size 13 feet.

The big man’s girth and size make him slow off the blocks; it’s just a larger body to unfold from the ground. He was slower than all but one competitor in the final on Sunday and 0.003 seconds behind Justin Gatlin at the start.

Bolt’s strength is not the first 50m, instead it’s the latter half. It’s by then that those long legs and arms with a wingspan that matches his height have propelled his body into a whirlwind that sees him complete 100m in a scant 40 to 41 steps. Others need at least two more, or even four to five more for the shorter ones. The muscle mass also allows him to persist in his top speed longer than the others. All sprinters slow down close to the end; Bolt’s rate is just slower than others.


Bolt would have been happier, as would have the rest of the world, if he had taken down the world record of 9.58 seconds which he set the year after Beijing, during the 2009 world championships in Berlin. But then two main factors intervened. The gap between the semifinals and the marquee race was reduced by the organisers.

“It’s hard; it was really hard to run fast because the turnaround time was really, really short. It was ridiculous as far as I was concerned. I felt so good in the semifinals but by the time you get back to the warm-up area and start warming-up again, it’s time to go back outside again. So for me it was really stupid. I don’t know who decided that but it was really stupid. That’s why the race was slow.” Bolt’s 9.81 here pales compared to the 9.69 of Beijing and London’s 9.63.

The second factor was that in June, Bolt had strained his lower back and left hamstring and missed two weeks of training. That injury meant the record was just not on. That then is the precise nature of making a man run 100 metres on Earth faster than any other. A few minutes of less recovery or a few days of missed training mean that even a superhuman like Bolt can’t fly at the speed he is capable of.

Twelve times this man has been clocked faster than 9.80. But then he is getting older. The injuries keep persisting. He has said that these are his last Games and that he will retire after the world championships at London. Time and again he seems to waste seconds at the end. He thumps his chest, he looks around. One can’t help but feel that the record and him stay unfinished business.

Even as Bolt took the attention away from the dope taint that has smeared athletics coming into these Games, he, as is only his wont, left us hoping for more. After all if Superman won’t fly, just who will?

First Published: Aug 16, 2016 06:55 IST