Olympics: Lightning likely to strike twice

By Paul Lewis

Despite some glitches during the past year, it is hard to see anyone other than Usain Bolt winning the 100m final, writes Paul Lewis.

Usain Bolt's strengths are his long stride and untapped potential.
Photo / Getty Images
Usain Bolt's strengths are his long stride and untapped potential. Photo / Getty Images

There's been a strange phenomenon at work ahead of tomorrow morning's 100m final - beating up on Usain Bolt.

Former Olympic 100m champion Maurice Greene says he will lose to Jamaican compatriot Yohan Blake in the signature event of the London Games. Former US 400m hurdles champion Edwin Moses - one of the finest and most consistent track athletes these old eyes have ever seen - also says Blake will beat Bolt.

Carl Lewis, the only man to successfully defend the Olympic 100m, goes one step further. While not specifically nominating Blake, Lewis says Bolt will struggle to replicate the feat Lewis achieved - and then went on to say that the Americans will win more sprint medals than the Jamaicans.

Those prepared to take Lewis' remarks to their fullest extent may interpret that as meaning Tyson Gay or Justin Gatlin of the US will win.

Now, sorry, but . . . nuh-uh.

Here is a disclaimer. Greene, Moses and Lewis have excellent records. They were the best in their day.

They could run like the wind. I once ran for a bus. I passed wind. What do I know?

Well, it is possible to detect in Lewis' remarks a little geographical and patriotic bias and some unwillingness to be dislodged from his throne: "It's very rare to repeat success. To win two Olympic 100m titles, nobody else has ever done it. History defines the greatest. You need longevity and consistency. I had an 18-year career."

But it simply beggars belief that the astonishing Bolt will not win the 100m - and he is also attempting to become the first man to successfully defend the Olympic 100m and 200m titles.

Here is an admission: This opinion is based largely on emotional evidence; gleaned from the press benches at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 when Bolt performed a gold medal run of such majesty and astonishing ease that he almost silenced the stadium - and which it is still difficult to describe. He ran at such blistering speed in the middle of the race, he made a quality field irrelevant. He eased down as he won, horsing around, so clear was it he had blitzed his opponents. His remarkable 9.69s was bettered only by the 9.58s he ran later to set the current world record.

In the press benches, we goggled at each other, not quite sure whether to believe our eyes. I can remember saying to a colleague: "Geez, I hope that didn't come out of a bottle" - a cynical reference to the fact that the last athlete I had seen so royally trounce the opposition was Florence Griffith-Joyner, another 100m-200m champion. Dead at 38, Flo-Jo was a remarkable woman, good-looking and with beautiful athletic form - but whose bemuscled frame led to suspicions that she was a doper. Her world records at 100m and 200m still stand, 24 years later. 'Nuff said.

As a sometimes Olympic writer, I am occasionally asked what was the single best performance I have ever seen. Bolt was it. Bolt was majestic on that day; a being from another planet. The others were sprinting. Bolt was somehow . . . teleporting himself. Those huge, long legs ate up the distance like never before. The great Tommie Smith, Moses, 400m champion Alberto Juantorena, Lewis - all giants but none had a stride like that. Later we learned that Bolt took only 41 strides in his 100m races; lesser mortals took 45.

Why is it so many knowledgeable folk think Bolt will lose? There is the fact Blake has beaten Bolt this year, most notably in the Jamaican Olympic trials. He beat Bolt twice in 48 hours, over 100m and 200m. That has validated his world championship victory in the 100m final in Daegu last year, when Bolt was disqualified for a false start. Blake's 19.26s for 200m last year is frighteningly quick and close to Bolt's 19.19s world record. There have been stories of Bolt not being properly fit; problems with hamstrings; a bad back - not uncommon in 1.95m individuals. There were also tales of partying and of taking his gifts for granted. Bolt says he is through all that.

Perhaps the most compelling evidence for a Blake victory comes from Greene, who said: "Bolt is healthy now, there is no problem with injuries or anything else; he is just trying to fix the problems he is having and he has been having the problems for about two years and he didn't fix them then [two years ago] and I haven't seen them being fixed this year so it seems to me he is going to continue to have them and that is why Blake is going to win."

The problem he is talking about is Bolt's start. The 'Lightning Bolt' ain't too fast when it comes to the start and getting those long legs motoring. Scientists suggest that the limit of human endurance in the 100m is about 9.40s and that Bolt is the man to do it.
But he goes so fast that there is little gain to be made during the running of the race.

The obvious improvement, therefore, is at the start - which is why many think Bolt fouled out at last year's world championships. Then, like now, the one false start rule is in effect.

That's why another US Olympic great - 200m and 400m champion Michael Johnson - qualifies his opinion when he says Bolt will win, provided he can "improve his start" (and not be disqualified).

Greene again: "They say Bolt had a bad start but look at Blake too; he was right back there with Bolt, they both had bad starts and Blake was still able to come out victorious in that race."

That's what to look for early tomorrow: Who bolts out. And who Bolts home.

- Herald on Sunday

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf04 at 21 Dec 2014 13:38:47 Processing Time: 241ms