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Usain Bolt breaks record in 100-meter race

The Jamaican wins the world championship in 9.58 seconds. The United States' Tyson Gay finishes second with a time of 9.71.

August 17, 2009|Philip Hersh

BERLIN — Usain Bolt added a new dimension Sunday night to the pre-race ritual that has made him as much of a crowd pleaser as a world beater.

Bolt struck his trademark lightning-bolt pose when the public address announcer introduced him before the 100-meter final at the World Track and Field Championships.

Just before getting into the blocks, Bolt made a gesture like the whoosh of a supersonic jet taking off.

And then he took his sport on a warp-speed ride into a new dimension, redefining the standards of the most basic human athletic pursuit, running as fast as one can over a measured distance.

In the last 88 years, no one has broken the 100-meter world record by a larger margin than the 22-year-old Jamaican did with his time of 9.58 seconds.

On a warm night with a 2 mph tail wind, Bolt sheared .11 of a second from the record of 9.69 he set in winning the 2008 Olympic gold medal, which had made him the first under 9.7.

"He has taken not just this sport but sport in general to a new place," said Ato Boldon, the four-time Olympic sprint medalist and NBC commentator.

"We have to rethink everything we know about human performance. I used to talk about times in the area of 9-low as some kind of unicorn-like fantasy, but he has made fantasy into reality."

This was Bob Beamon breaking the long jump world record by more than two feet at the 1968 Olympics, Wilt Chamberlain scoring 100 points in an NBA game, Michael Phelps winning his eighth gold medal -- all feats that seemed practically impossible before they occurred.

As many expected, Bolt turned his much-hyped duel with Tyson Gay of the United States into a battle between one man and history, even though reigning world champion Gay ran an exceptional race to finish second in 9.71. That is the third-fastest time in history, beaten only by Bolt's two world records.

Former world-record holder Asafa Powell of Jamaica was third in 9.84.

"I never thought that I would see this even if I lived to be 100," said Mel Rosen, 81, the 1992 U.S. Olympic men's track coach. "We have always thought if you were going to be a great sprinter, to get even better you had to have an incredible stride length or turnover. Bolt is the first to have both."

Bolt -- unusually tall for a sprinter -- has managed to uncoil that body from the blocks more efficiently than anyone ever imagined possible for a runner of 6 feet 5.

Having overcome that apparent disadvantage, Bolt then needs two or three fewer strides to cover the 100 meters than a runner like Gay, who is 5-11. They aren't loping strides, because the speed at which Bolt's feet get on and off the ground, or turnover, is very quick, reminiscent of the styles of Olympic track legends Jesse Owens (5-10) and Michael Johnson (6 feet).

Bolt edged into the lead Sunday after 30 meters, but Gay stayed on his heels for the next 50 before the Jamaican calmly put clear daylight between himself and his U.S. pursuer.

"This was the first time he was challenged, and it was like he was saying, 'You can do whatever you want behind me, but I'm not changing anything and at the end of it, I will still be the greatest ever,' " Boldon said.

Unlike in the Beijing Olympics, where Bolt cost himself a faster time by playing to the crowd with an open-armed gesture in the final 20 meters, he ran hard through the finish here at the 1936 Olympic stadium.

He exulted with a chest slap only after seeing the world-record time, which brought a $100,000 bonus, on a track-level display board.

"I am really happy Usain Bolt broke the record," Gay said. "I know that may sound strange, but I knew it was humanly possible for someone to run that fast. I'm just sorry it wasn't me."

Gay, who has a groin injury, might not run the upcoming 200 meters. He beat Bolt for the world title in the 200 two years ago.

The 200 was Bolt's race until 2008. He had run a single 100 in competition before then.

This was his first at a world meet.

In just two seasons, Bolt has transformed not only the chronological parameters of the sprints -- he also set a world record in winning the Olympic 200 -- but the mental approach to getting ready for the gun.

"It is amazing how relaxed he is," Rosen said.

His favored pre-race meal is chicken nuggets. He fuels his psyche in the final minutes before a race not with the shows of ferocity common among sprinters but a lighthearted manner more natural for a three-legged race at the company picnic.

"Maybe we had it all wrong, being all serious and smacking ourselves in the chest before a race," Boldon said. "We always said a relaxed sprinter is a fast sprinter, and now we have the most relaxed sprinter of all time who is also the fastest sprinter of all time."

As he waited for the start of the final, which was delayed seven minutes by a previous event, Bolt sat on the blocks and exchanged handshakes with Gay, in the adjoining lane. Then he exchanged fist bumps with Powell.

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