Pulling a fast one

Sprinter's 200 record appears too good to be true

On Usain Bolt

Beijing 2008

August 21, 2008|By RICK MAESE

BEIJING - The race was simply unbelievable.

Usain Bolt wiped his hand over his head several times, ran his index fingers over his eyebrows and pushed out his top so everyone could see "Jamaica" from shoulder to shoulder. Then he crouched into the blocks, waited for the gun and left seven competitors and the previous world record in the dust.

If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I would have called you a liar. The previous world record in the 200 meters, set by Michael Johnson in the 1996 Games, was 19.32 seconds. Bolt's previous best was 19.67. He ran the race yesterday in a blistering 19.30, which surely says wonders about his conditioning program heading into the Olympics.

Instantly, it moved into my all-time top-five sports moments. I'm not sure where on the list it ranks, but parts of it reminded me of all the others.

For example, did you see the cameras flashing at the start of the race? It was as if a princess had cracked open her jewelry drawer. I had seen it before - each time Mark McGwire came to bat as he took aim at Roger Maris' single-season home run mark. What a chase that was. The excitement and anticipation were similar to what we saw last night, as Bolt exploded off the blocks.

And when Bolt actually took off, you should have seen him, a blur of yellow and green. Kind of like Floyd Landis a couple of years ago. Landis was the first one across the finish line at the 2006 Tour de France, though I'm not sure even he moved quite as fast as Bolt did around the track yesterday.

No one was even close to Bolt. He whipped around the turn and was a mile ahead of the field. The second and third runners across the finish line were eventually disqualified for lane infractions. So even though they were bending the rules, they still couldn't catch the Lightning Bolt.

A part of me wonders whether the win will silence Bolt's detractors. Bolt became the first man to set two world records in sprints in a single Olympics. Earlier in the week, he set the 100-meter mark, even though he slowed midway through the race to pose for pictures, chat with fans and call his accountant.

Did you see what BALCO bad boy Victor Conte wrote in New York's Daily News this week? He says he warned the World Anti-Doping Agency about a supplier working with elite athletes in Jamaica. Plus, he said he encouraged the agency to conduct offseason testing. And worse, he said it ignored his words of caution.

"When times begin falling like rain," he wrote, "questions arise, especially when the record-setters are from countries such as Jamaica and other Caribbean nations."

To which Herb Elliot, Jamaica's team doctor, responded last night: "Mr. Conte is a poster boy for cheaters. He should not be allowed to open his mouth about anybody."

Attaboy, Dr. Herb!

The post-race celebration was especially great. Bolt crossed the line, looked to his left and spotted his time. He pumped his fist, and before long he fell to the track, pounding his chest. When he took a victory lap around the track, he took off his gold shoes and started dancing, knocking his knees and shaking his legs. He posed for photos all along the way.

I can't recall someone this impressed with himself since Barry Bonds was chasing Hank Aaron's career home run mark. Remember the way Bonds would use all of his God-given might and blast the cover off the ball, pausing at the plate to admire his feat? That was great, but it had nothing on Bolt's celebration.

"You can't say it any other way, he's something you've never seen before," Renaldo Nehemiah, former world-record hurdler and University of Maryland star, said of Bolt at the Bird's Nest. "He's just a freak."

It's true, the world of track and field hasn't seen someone like Bolt in quite a while. I might go as far as to say he's even better than a couple of my favorite sprinters.

It's not often that someone wins both the 100 and the 200 meters, as Bolt has done at these Games. In fact, I'll never forget the last time it happened. Back in 2000, Marion Jones bested the field in both races and became a sensation in America.

It was always a bit odd to know that she was coached for a period by Charlie Francis, who also coached Tim Montgomery and previously Ben Johnson. Over the years, Francis has repeatedly claimed that athletes can't win races at this elite level without the assistance of drugs.

Fret not. Dr. Herb countered yesterday: "Charlie Francis was an idiot."

Attaboy, Dr. Herb!

Francis was in charge of Johnson in the 1980s. You might recall that at the 1988 Games Johnson topped the world record in the 100 meters by 0.14 of a second, a ridiculous margin. That still stands today as one of those Olympic memories I'll never forget (even though Bolt himself beat that mark by a full tenth of a second this week).

Thinking of Johnson does make me wonder what Bolt might have in store for the future. Johnson entered the business world, even sold a sports drink he brazenly called Cheetah.

I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if Bolt finds something similar in his future, especially after yesterday's unbelievable run.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

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