BEIJING -- There will always be another. This is the eternal lesson of track and field. On a sweltering August night 12 years ago,
But one afternoon two years later, he ran too fast at a school field day and found himself on the track team, because Jamaica will compel a sprinter to sprint. Somewhere a clock began ticking, counting down the life of Johnson's record, unseen and unknown, but inexorable.
At the age of 12, Bolt ran 52 seconds flat for 400 meters on a grass track in Manchester, Jamaica. He won the world junior 400-meter title at age 16, beating athletes who were four years older. He was impossibly precocious. "We knew what was coming,'' said
On Wednesday night in the Olympic Stadium called the Bird's Nest, Bolt ran 19.30 seconds to take down Johnson's world record. (In 1996 Johnson broke the previous record by .34.) Four days after celebrating 15 meters from the finish while winning the 100-meter gold medal in a world record 9.69 seconds, Bolt tore all the way through the line -- even dipping his chest slightly -- to win his second gold medal. He became the eighth man in history to complete the Olympic 100/200 double and the first to do it with two world records; not since
It was what Bolt intended to do. He was widely criticized after his 100-meter victory for flaunting the ease of his win. "Good TV, poor sportsmanship,'' said NBC analyst and four-time Olympian
"You have to take chances when you have them,''
On the walk to the warm-up track before the final, Bolt told his British agent,
Said Simms: "He realizes that these kind of opportunities don't come along very often.''
After the race, Bolt said, "I told myself, 'I'm going to leave everything on the track.' I did just that.''
The reality of the 100 meters is that it's contested in part with the legs and lungs and in part with the mind. Fast men crack. On the night before the 200 final, veteran
"Get in his head,'' Collins said. Even before Bolt won the 100 meters, long-time Los Angeles-based track agent
There is a flaw in that strategy. Bolt is too fast to frighten, and too cool to sweat. On Wednesday evening, as coach
En route to the call room, the sprinters' final stop before they step onto the track for the race, Mills reached up to massage Bolt's shoulders. Bolt purposely fell flat on his face as if Mills' massage had somehow made him unconscious. He had done the same thing before a race in London in late July. Again, Bolt began laughing uncontrollably.
"All these other guys have these serious faces,'' says Simms. "Usain is just laughing and chilling. I'm telling you, the guy is just different.''
He's even more different on the track. It was widely known that American
By the time Bolt hit the straightaway with 100 meters to run, he was clear of the field, running into a modest headwind. "That's the big difference between this race and Michael Johnson's race,'' said former British Olympic sprinter
Yet, Bolt did precisely what Johnson did, accelerating almost unimaginably to the wire, drawing away with every stride. Johnson's margin of victory over Fredericks was .36 seconds; Bolt's was an unreal .52 over
Beaten opponents struggled for words afterward. "It's mind-blowing,'' said
Collins, who finished eighth and last and was elevated to sixth with the DQs, said, "It's ridiculous. I mean, come on. How fast can you go before records can't be broken? We thought the 100 record could possibly go to 9.6, but we never thought the 200 record could be broken. I didn't think it would happen while I was still running. How fast can a human being run before there is no more going fast?''
The question was meant as a sort of philosophical rumination. Yet, with Bolt in possession of both world records, and so young and fast and fearless, it seems almost certain that the 100 will fall further and possible that the 200 will. Johnson has suggested that Bolt chase the 400 as well, and while he doesn't like the event -- Mills chided him before the 100 meters by threatening to make him run a 400 soon if he didn't get the gold medal -- he has run it before.
He surely now faces suspicion. In '08, he has reduced his 100-meter personal best by .34 seconds and his 200-meter PR by .45 seconds, both incredible drops for an athlete running at a high level. His 100-meter doping test apparently came back clean and now he will be tested again. Even if that's clean, cynics will point out that
Say this: Bolt has the personality to deflect suspicion, even if he cannot disprove it. He delights in making the world a funny place rather than serious one. He watched the replay of his race on Wednesday night and said, "I was saying, 'I look cool. That guy looks fast.'''
Last Saturday night, I rode with Bolt from the stadium in a golf cart, screaming through tunnels and into the night. Bolt laughed as the cart screeched through turns; this, after signing autographs endlessly for stadium volunteers.
After his world record run on Wednesday, the Bird's Nest sound system blared
And somewhere on the planet, a little boy played and ran fast, unaware of a future in which Bolt's record will be his. Because now we know for certain, the next record-holder always awaits.