World’s Fastest Man hasn’t hit top speed
Twenty meters from the finish line, his celebration began. He relaxed his arms, looked toward the crowd and slapped his chest. And despite those theatrics, he still covered 100 meters faster than any man ever has.
He did it in 9.69 seconds, and immediately one had to wonder how much faster he could go. Faster than a speeding bullet?
The showman teased our imaginations. But he denied us the answer, shrugging off questions about why he coasted for the final 20 meters rather than obliterate the world record.
“I didn’t come here to run the world record because I am the world-record holder,’’ he said. “I came here to win.’’
This wasn’t so much an Olympic 100-meter final as a tantalizing one-man show. Because the World’s Fastest Man is also the World’s Biggest Ham.
He was dancing before the race even began.
Shimmying in front of the starting blocks, Bolt struck a pose during pre-race introductions as if the race was over before it started. Turns out it was, and Bolt had post-race entertainment planned for the enthralled sellout crowd of 91,000.
It took him fewer than 10 seconds to run 100 meters but at least 10 minutes to complete his victory lap. He pulled off his gold spikes and held them aloft, wrapped himself in a Jamaican flag and clowned as if he were on stage at a karaoke bar rather than on the biggest stage of the Olympics.
“I like to have fun,’’ he explained.
Munching on a post-race snack during a press conference, Bolt said there would be plenty of time to test his limits and lower the world record. That’s the most mind-boggling part about it – what might come next.
He is only 21, and his specialty is the 200 meters. Like a lot of things in life, Bolt runs the 100 for fun.
At 6 feet 5, he stands in stark contrast to the shorter and stockier sprinters. Too tall to run the 100, most experts thought before the jolly giant arrived on the scene. It took him five races as a pro before he broke the world record.
“He’s a freak of nature,’’ said Darvis Patton, one of seven runners who was vying for the silver medal in Saturday’s final, seeing that Bolt could have jogged his way to the gold.
Lightning Bolt, they call him. Prodigy, they called him before that.
At 15, Bolt became the youngest-ever world junior champion in the 200. He qualified for the 2004 Games at the age of 17, but an injury derailed his chance of medaling. His coaches then urged him to begin running the 400, too, but Bolt hated the 400 workouts. So earlier this year, he and his coach cut a deal.
If Bolt broke the Jamaican record for the 200, he could give up the 400 in favor of the 100. So Bolt promptly broke that record and began a mind-boggling dash to the title of World’s Fastest Man.
He earned it May 31 when he beat Tyson Gay, the reigning world champion, and lowered the world record to 9.72 seconds from the 9.74 Jamaica’s Asafa Powell had run. Six weeks later, at the U.S. Olympic trials, Gay ran a wind-aided 9.68, setting up a hotly anticipated showdown with the young phenom.
But six days later, Gay suffered a hamstring injury and he failed to regain his form by Saturday, when he finished fifth in his semifinal heat. The mention of that after the race was about the only time Bolt looked downcast.
“I was looking forward to racing Tyson,’’ he said. “To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best.’’
But on Saturday, Bolt looked unbeatable. Next, he’ll turn his attention to the 200 meters, with the first rounds set for Monday and the finals scheduled for Wednesday. If he wins the event, he’ll become the first man to capture the gold in the 100 and 200 since Carl Lewis in 1984. Without anyone as talented as Lewis around to challenge him in the 200, he might be competing against history.
The world record of 19.32 seconds, set by Michael Johnson at the 1996 Olympics, looks within Bolt’s grasp. Marveling at Bolt’s performance, Johnson already has said of the 12-year-old record that he’s “ready to kiss it goodbye.’’
But if it happens, it might be incidental. Bolt looks and sounds more interested in winning gold medals and celebrating. When he had circled the track and finally completed his joyous and comical victory lap, he looked up at the crowd and took a bow.
Make no mistake. For the young showman, there will be an encore.