By Brian Cazeneuve
August 20, 2009

BERLIN -- Usain Bolt spent the week telling everyone not to expect another world record in the 200 meters. Don't listen to the man. Not even he knows how fast he can run. Bolt beat another world record into submission on Thursday night, lowering his mark in the 200 meters from the dizzying 19.30 he ran at the Beijing Olympics to 19.19, a mark that sounds more like fantasy than logic.

Over the past 13 months, the Jamaican star has now set the sprinting standards so high and the times so low, he is running against himself, sending crowds into gasps and foes into chases for silver medals. "It's just a great feat for me," Bolt said after the race. "I didn't know I was going to break it that bad."

He wasn't being chased by turtles, either. The next four runners in the race, all well back in his slipstream, finished under under 20 seconds: Alonso Edward of Panama in 19.81, U.S. runners Wallace Spearmon and Shawn Crawford in 19.85 and 19.89 and Jamaica's Steve Mullings in 19.98.

It was just four days ago, after Bolt lowered the world record in the 100 meters to 9.58 seconds, that he tried to lower expectations about another record in the 200. This, after all, was the mark he strained to set at the Beijing Olympics. Unlike the 100-meter mark, considered soft by some, the 200 record of 19.32 set by Michael Johnson at the 1996 Atlanta Games was seemingly unassailable for the near future. The sport needed a runner from another generation or another planet would have to come along and beat it. Or maybe it just needed the perfect sprinter with the perfect sprinting name.

This year, however, he hadn't run nearly as many 200s in competition. He suffered a minor car accident earlier in the year that prevented him from running the curves he'd need to manage the necessary torque around the turns on the Berlin track. No, no 200 record. He had been there and that.

But then even Bolt didn't know how brilliantly he would run on Thursday. He is an average starter at best, but his reaction time, 0.133 seconds, was the fastest of the eight finalists. He was already ahead by the start of the turn and once he hit the straightaway, the medal color was secured and only the record was in question.

Bolt gritted his teeth just as he reached the line, but he still didn't bother to lean forward. Instead he glanced at the trackside clock to the left of lane one about 10 meters past the finish line. When Bolt spotted the clock that initially read 19.20, he pointed at it and stuck out his tongue. Around the far side of the track, he grabbed a Jamaican flag and mouthed the words: "I am number one. Number one. Don't forget it."

Bolt's times have so set the track world on its ear that he has people asking the inevitable questions about drugs. "I don't know what I can do to convince people I'm clean," he said, "other than stay clean and run fast." Asked what it would take to topple Bolt in the near future, Spearmon threw up hands after the race and said, "You can't stop trying, even if you're in awe."

By the time the "world's fastest man" was done, the "world's greatest athlete" was still jogging his way to gold. Trey Hardee won the decathlon on Thursday, maintaining the recent history of U.S. success in the multi-sport event. Over the past 10 world championships Dan O'Brien, Tom Pappas, Bryan Clay and now Hardee have combined to win six gold medals.

Hardee became a favorite to win this year when Clay, the Olympic champion in Beijing, withdrew from nationals in June because of a sore hamstring. As Clay was winning those Olympics, Hardee was in fourth place, within range of a medal, when he no-heighted in the pole vault and then dropped out. "I couldn't have asked for anything better tonight," Hardee said. "After last year, feeling not just that I let myself down, but also let other people down, it's just beyond words."

Hardee's misfortune last year was all the more stunning given the way he took up the decathlon. Many athletes start their careers with strong backgrounds in either the sprint or throwing events and then pick up the pole vault as a necessary evil. Hardee started his track career as a pole vaulter after he was cut from the varsity basketball team and his coach suggested he pick up a pole.

On Thursday, Hardee admitted having some flashbacks to the Olympics, as he took a large lead into the pole vault, the eighth event of the two days. "I felt great all the way to the pole vault," he said, but warming up was really hard. I just couldn't get into a rhythm. I just tried to keep smiling. I wasn't feeling that good. Something was off. When the bar went up, suddenly I felt great. It was a total 180 from what happened last year."

With his confidence restored, Hardee leapt 5.20 meters in the pole vault, the highest jump of any athlete in the competition. The performance extended his lead to more than 200 points ahead of the nearest competitor. By the time the gun went off for the final event, the 1,500 meters, at close to 11 p.m. Hardee needed only to stay within 34 seconds of his nearest challengers. He gave up some of that cushion, struggling through in 4:48.91. He finished with 8,790 points, 150 more than Cuba's Leonel Suarez in second place.

Croatia's Blanka Vlasic won the high jump title on Thursday in Berlin. But that was the easy part for Vlasic, who had trouble more staying under things this week than getting over them. Vlasic cleared 2.04 meters on her second try on Thursday to pull ahead of Anna Chicherova of Russia and national favorite Ariane Friedrich of Germany. Earlier in the week, Vlasic was doing what she described as gymnastics bounding drills in her hotel, when she hit her head on an overhead doorway, causing a deep gash on her forehead. Vlasic nearly passed out as she started losing blood. She took six stitches and returned to the track three hours later to begin qualifying. "For me, I cleared all the drama and pressure out of my head before the competition," she said. "I left it at the hotel."

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