Like lightning out of nowhere, Usain Bolt is now the world’s fastest man.
The Jamaican sprinter, who doesn’t even consider the 100 meters his best race, set the world record with a time of 9.72 seconds at the Reebok Grand Prix on Saturday, .02 seconds faster than the old record held by his countryman, Asafa Powell.
Bolt was using the 100 as “speed work” to get better for his favorite race, the 200, and also to avoid having to run the more grueling 400. Then, unexpectedly, he ran the world’s second-fastest time a few weeks ago at 9.76.
Even with that, he said he wasn’t sure if he would switch out the 400 for the 100 at the Beijing Olympics.
“I think that will change today,” Bolt said. “It doesn’t matter if I have the world record if I don’t have the Olympic medal.”
Springing from the starting block and unfurling his lanky frame — listed at 1.93 meters (6-foot-4), but probably more like 1.95 (6-5) and, either way, considered too tall for this kind of speed work — he created a big-time gap between himself and Tyson Gay at about the halfway point, then routed America’s top sprinter to the finish line.
“I wasn’t really looking for a world record, but it was there for the taking,” Bolt said.
Gay finished in 9.85.
“Obviously, I have some work to do,” Gay said. “Right now, it’s hats off to Bolt. Today was his day.”
As he crossed the finish line, Bolt spread his arms out wide and let out a yell. A few moments later, the 21-year-old from Kingston was hoisting the Jamaican flag and a crowd with several hundreds of Jamaican fans was going wild. Then, he kneeled down and posed next to the scoreboard that recorded the fastest time ever — “9.72.”
“Just coming here, knowing a lot of Jamaicans were here giving me their support, it meant a lot,” Bolt said. “I just wanted to give them what they wanted.”
But who could have expected this?
Bolt has long been considered one of his country’s top, up-and-coming runners, but his height and running style seemed to make him much more fit for powering through turns in the 200, the distance he considers his best, and persevering in the 400, which he doesn’t love as much.
Like so many who compete in the 100, Bolt had lots of work to do with his push out of the blocks. In the leadup to the race, he said he doesn’t consider himself a true pro at that yet. And after a bad false start by the field — the second gun didn’t go off until the runners were 20 meters down the track — this simply didn’t seem like a night for world records.
Or was it?
“I was glad for the first false start,” Bolt said. “My first start wasn’t that good. I knew if I got Tyson on the start, I’d get him.”
Gay said he knew it was over after he saw Bolt push out.
“I honestly think we were on the same rhythm, except his stride pattern is a lot bigger,” Gay said. “He was covering a lot more ground than I was.”
“An awesome athlete,” said Shawn Crawford, who finished sixth and witnessed history from two lanes inside of Bolt. “The time shows it.”
This marked the first time the record had been set in the United States since the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, when Donovan Bailey ran a 9.84.
A lot is often said about Olympic trials in the United States — that given the depth of the roster, it can be an even better meet than the actual Olympics. But suddenly the highlight of the pre-Olympic calendar could be the Jamaican nationals at the end of June, when Bolt and Powell should square off in the 100. Powell, who set the mark of 9.74 last September in Italy, is overcoming a chest injury but is expected to be healthy soon.
Also at the Jamaican championships will be Veronica Campbell-Brown, who won the women’s 100 on Saturday in 10.91, the fastest time of 2008.
The fastest time ever, though, now belongs to Bolt, and it made a prophet out of Gay, who predicted that with himself, Bolt and Powell lining up against each other over these next few months, the record could go down, down, down.
The conditions were right.
The start of the meet was delayed by an hour because of threatening storms in the area. Then, about halfway though, a brief thunderstorm hit, cooling the track and leaving it with just the faintest sheen of glistening moisture before the last, most-anticipated, race of the night. The tailwind was measured at 1.7 meters-per-second, .3 under the limit at which a record can be set.