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Bolt takes his world record in stride

Jamaican whose 9.72 run set the men's 100-meter mark says 'this was just one race.'

June 02, 2008|Philip Hersh | Special to The Times

In a blink of an eye, the long-standing dynamic of track and field's glamour event at the upcoming Olympics has changed.

Since last September, the 100 meters at the 2008 Beijing Olympics shaped up as a classic mano a mano -- Asafa Powell of Jamaica against Tyson Gay of the United States.

That story had enough subtexts to be intriguing in its complexity.

Reigning world champion Gay against notorious big-meet flop Powell, who was a humiliated third behind Gay at the 2007 world championships but went on to set a world record of 9.74 seconds a couple of weeks later.

Then Powell pulled a muscle in his chest this spring.

And, almost as if his absence from competition created a vacuum, another young Jamaican has apparently become the man to beat in the 100.

The way Usain Bolt has, for lack of a better way to put it, bolted onto the 100 scene of course will raise questions in a sport beleaguered by doping.

I mean, how do you figure a guy who seemed too tall for the 100, his 6-foot-4 body needing extra time to uncoil at the start, suddenly going from a personal best of 10.03 before this season to a world record of 9.72 on Saturday night in New York?

That was .02 faster than what Powell ran last September.

And .04 faster than the already eyebrow-raising 9.76 Bolt ran in early May.

And so good it left Gay -- who ran a 9.85 -- a badly beaten second Saturday night.

Ato Boldon, an Olympic medalist in the sprints, told CBS he had never seen a big man start as well as Bolt had.

Bolt's talent long has been evident -- in the 200 meters, in which he finished second to Gay at last year's world meet.

"I always say the 200 is my favorite race. That's not going to change," Bolt said after the 100 record.

His coach, Glen Mills, decided to let Bolt try the 100 after last season, when his runner broke Jamaican idol Don Quarrie's venerable national record of 19.86 in the 200. Bolt ran 19.75.

Everyone figured that with his size and running style, Bolt, now 21, was bound for the 400 meters.

But this young man who won world junior medals at 15 always had uncommon maturity, and he already had learned the training for the 400 was too painful.

His reaction to Saturday's performance -- only the fifth 100 of his career at elite level -- also showed perspective beyond his years and experience.

"This world record doesn't mean a thing unless I get the Olympic gold medal, or win at the world championships," Bolt said.

Winning the Olympics would have been a lot easier for Bolt without the buildup that will herald his arrival in Beijing. Running four rounds as the favorite is a lot harder than doing it with no expectations.

"There aren't going to be any celebrations," Bolt said. "This was just one race. There's a whole lot more to go."

A largely Jamaican crowd of 6,490 at Icahn Stadium on Randall's Island saw Bolt get on the fast track to Beijing.

It is a track Powell had been on in the past.

Things change quickly in the 100.

--

Philip Hersh covers Olympic sports for The Times and Chicago Tribune.

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