200 record within reach

In the spotlight today Track and field

Bolt expected to break 19.32

Beijing 2008

August 20, 2008|By Chicago Tribune

BEIJING - It sounds simple.

Jamaica's Usain Bolt struts the final 20 meters in Saturday's Olympic 100-meter final and still covers the distance in 9.69 seconds, breaking the world record he set this season.

He began running the 100 only this year and has much more experience in - and a greater passion for - the 200.

He is expected to break the record in the long sprint, the 19.32 that remains otherworldly 12 years after Michael Johnson set it in the 1996 Olympic final.

No less an expert than Johnson said, "I'm ready to kiss the record goodbye, if he keeps on doing what he has been doing."

Bolt has done more than that since getting Johnson's attention May 31 with his first 100-meter world record of 9.72. Bolt has run the fifth-fastest time ever in the 200, a 19.67, and the three leading 200 times this season.

"I used to think 19.32 was untouchable; now I think it is touchable," said Debbie Ferguson McKenzie of the Bahamas, the Olympic 200 bronze medalist in 2004.

Said Marie-Jose Perec of France, Olympic 200 champion in 1996: "He has it in his legs. He is a force of nature, a one-in-a-million runner."

Wallace Spearmon, two-time world medalist in the 200, who will be running against Bolt in today's final, said, "I wouldn't put anything past him right now."

And what did Bolt think about this after running a 20.09, the fastest time of yesterday's semifinalists?

Bolt says he is tired with one race left in the first major meet in which he will have run eight sprint races, even if he has not pushed from start to finish in the first seven.

"I'm going out there and run my heart out and anything that comes, comes, but right now it's kind of hard," Bolt said. "I've been through four rounds of the 100 and three of the 200, so it's kind of hard to go out there and get the record."

No man has set world records in both sprints at the Olympics. Not since Carl Lewis in 1984 has a man won both.

"I'm definitely going out there hoping I can win both, but the 200 would mean a lot more to me," Bolt said two weeks ago.

A year ago, when Bolt was running only the 200 at the world championships, he came through the curve with the lead but could not hold off Tyson Gay of the United States in the straight. Spearmon does not rule out a repeat of that scenario.

"He's more fit, but he's the same old Bolt," Spearmon said. "Just because you can run the 100 doesn't mean you can run the 200. Run too fast [at the start] and you'll be tired at the turn."

Johnson expressed amazement that Bolt was able to run a 19.75 last year, "given that he's not the most technically sound 200-meter runner."

Bolt's height, 6 feet 5, which makes him unusually tall for a sprinter, gives him a stride length that helps even when he tires, Spearmon said.

"When he's gassed, he still covers more ground than a lot of short people," Spearmon said.

The long strides would not be as effective if Bolt were not able to combine them with a rapid turnover.

Johnson, 6 feet 1, had a considerably shorter stride but a quick turnover; his feet spent little time on the track relative to other sprinters. Each fraction of a second of contact with the track slows the runner.

"He has the advantages of a small man and a big man," Perec said, "with the explosiveness and stride frequency of a short runner and the stride length of a tall one."

For Bolt to turn those qualities into a 200 world record will require a favorable wind (Johnson had a 1.7 mph tailwind) and some help from the four runners to his right in the staggered start. Bolt drew Lane 5 on a track on which the runners are using Lanes 2 through 9.

"You have to have somebody to go and catch coming off the first turn," said sprinter Kim Collins of St. Kitts and Nevis. "He needs a good rabbit."

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