Jamaica's Bolt surprises field with new 100-meter world record
NEW YORK -- By the time the night sky cleared over Icahn Stadium on Randall's Island and the 43-minute-long thunderstorm rolled eastward Saturday night, Jamaican Usain Bolt stepped into his starting blocks, weathered a false start and added a dash of lightning.
Four weeks after challenging compatriot Asafa Powell's world record of 9.74 seconds in the 100 meters with a 9.76 performance at the Jamaica International Invitational in Kingston, Bolt, 21, set a new world record at 9.72. "I heard it's crazy down home right now," Bolt says.
Emerging on the international track scene, over which the black cloud of steroids still hangs, especially with this week's conviction of former coach Trevor Graham in the BALCO investigation, the gangly, 6-foot-5 sprinter provided needles of sunlight for the sport. "You hear a lot of Asafa Powell, Asafa Powell," says Tyson Gay, an American sprinter and current world champion in the 100 meters who ran a 9.85 to finish second to Bolt. "Then Bolt comes in and some people say it throws a monkey wrench into things, but I'm fine with it."
On a night when the Jamaican national anthem was sung during a rain-delay collection of Chinese-, American- and Trinidadian-anthem karaoke, the loudest cheers rained for Jamaica. In the women's 100 meters, world champion gold medalist Veronica Campbell-Brown overcame her own false start to beat Americans Allyson Felix and Lauryn Williams in front of a crowd of more than 6,490 fans, predominantly dressed in green, black and gold. "I love the noise," Bolt says. "It gets me faster."
It was a nerveless Bolt who charged onto center stage. Happy that a false start was called in his original start, allowing him to get out of the blocks cleaner, he says he knew by the 50-meter mark, the end of his drive and transition phase, that he had Gay beat. "I didn't come here looking to set a world record," Bolt says.
After cutting through the finish line tape and raising both arms, he posed for photos by the official clock. At first the scoreboard clock announced the time as 9.71, but the ruling afterward added a tenth. "He had already run a 9.7 before so his body knew the rhythm," says Gay, whose personal best is a 9.84 and previously edged Bolt in the 200 meters at last year's world championships in Osaka, Japan.
Up until Saturday night's race, it was not set in stone that he would be running the 100 in Beijing. Now 67 days away from opening ceremonies, Bolt, who did not begin running the 100 until last season as speed training for his longer distances, will expand upon this dual meet for a three-prong battle in China. "A lot of people ask about me and Asafa, but we've never run against each other," Bolt says. Powell has missed time recently while recovering from a pulled pectoral muscle.
Leading into the 100, the crowd watched as Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang announced that he would not be racing due to a tightened right hamstring, and his coaches said it is unlikely that the 2004 Olympics 110-meter hurdle champion would race again before the Games.
Leaving his coaches and handlers to speak for him, Xiang hopped -- he did not hurdle -- over a side fence, nimbly so, with two feet and both hands on the fence top. Just minutes later, Bolt stepped into the spotlight left vacant by China's great hope. "Unless I have a medal around my neck," Bolt says. "I wouldn't consider my business done."
After finishing his press conference, Bolt strode slowly down the hall. Outside, lining the building were Jamaican fans drowning out a montage of Bob Marley music with their cheers. Before Bolt could emerge, though, he was escorted into behind black curtains to the meet doping center, a stark reminder of the era in which Bolt's fast times are occurring.