Usain Bolt hasn’t always been the world’s fastest man. Here’s a quick look back at the runners who beat Bolt in the heats of the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
Heading into his final Olympic Games, Usain Bolt is the favorite once again in the 100 and 200 meters (even with his injury), and combined with a Rio victory in the 4x100-meter relay, he could solidify his place in history as the first man to win gold in those three events in three straight Olympics.
Lofty stuff, right?
Believe it or not, there was a time when Bolt wasn’t the favorite in every race that he entered. When he was racing at the junior ranks, Bolt suffered a hamstring injury and failed to compete at the 2004 World Junior Championships, but he was still named to the Olympic team that year.
Many forget that he raced in the 2004 Games. On Aug. 24, Bolt ran in the heats of the 200 meters, and the results on the scoreboard read:
1. Marcin Jędrusiński, POL — 20.63 Q
2. Tobian Unger, GER — 20.65 Q
3. Joseph Batangdon, CMR — 20.92 Q
4. Géza Pauer, HUN — 21.02 Q
5. Usain Bolt, JAM — 21.05
Bolt failed to advance to the semifinals by .03, something that would make worldwide headlines if it happened today—yes, he was hampered by a hamstring injury, but now, a slowed Bolt is still faster than the rest. The U.S. went on to sweep the 200-meter medals in Athens for the first time in history with Shawn Crawford taking gold and Bernard Williams and Justin Gatlin finishing for silver and bronze, respectively.
Men had beat Bolt. That phrase hasn’t been uttered much since.
After their podium sweep in Athens, the U.S. continued to dominate the sprints. Even when Gatlin, who won gold at the ’04 Games and ’05 world championships, tested positive for testosterone and served a four-year suspension from ’06 to ’10, Tyson Gay stepped right up and filled his spot. Bolt finished second to Gay in the 200 meters at worlds in ’07s.
Since then, only four men have beaten Bolt in international competition: Antigua’s Daniel Bailey (London Diamond League 100m semifinal in 2009), American Tyson Gay (Stockholm Diamond League 100m in ’10), Jamaica’s Yohan Blake (Jamaican National Championship 100- and 200-meter final in 2012) and Gatlin (Rome Diamond League 100m in 2013).
Check out Gatlin’s victory below:
Before we bid adieu to Bolt, let’s take a closer look at the four men who beat Bolt in his first Olympics and how their careers panned out after Athens.
Marcin Jędrusiński, Poland
After beating Bolt, Jędrusiński ran his season’s best of 20.55 in the quarterfinals to secure a spot in the semis. Had he run close to his personal best of 20.31, he would have advanced to the final. Instead he finished a distant seventh in 20.81.
The next time he would see Bolt would be at the 2007 world championships in Osaka, where Bolt blew him away with a 20.03 in the semifinals before taking silver in the final. Jędrusiński finished his career never having reached a 200-meter final at a global championship, and his only medal of significance was a silver in the 4x100 relay at the 2006 European Championships. He has not competed since 2012.
Tobias Unger, Germany
Unger was the only runner of the four that beat Bolt in 2004 to reach the final of the 200 meters in Athens. He may have run the second slowest time of the semifinals—20.54—and finished last in the finals, but he can forever be called an Olympic finalist, and that’s what counts.
He made up for it in 2005. First he ran a German national record of 20.20 and then in the final of the world championships, he... beat Bolt again. Unger can forever claim a 2–0 record against the world’s fastest man.
Joseph Batangdon, Cameroon
Defeating Bolt took so much out of the African champion that he did not start the next round after sustaining a minor injury. Batangdon did not draw Bolt at the 2005 world championships and never faced him again or competed at a major championship. He retired in 2011.
Géza Pauer, Hungary
The man who finished ahead of Bolt and took the final auto-qualifying spot for the next round... was a cheat. Next time you think you can outrun a purse snatcher remember that even the world’s fastest man can be robbed. Pauer went on to run 20.90 before being eliminated in the quarterfinal, and he never ran faster ever again.
Pauer tested positive for the anabolic steroid Boldenone at the Hungarian 2006 national championships and was banned for two years. He continued running after his suspension but never qualified for a national team and retired after 2012.