A GOLF CART raced
through wide, clean tunnels under the Bird's Nest, Beijing's Olympic Stadium.
Volunteers jumped aside, lest they be flattened. Banners flapped in the little
vehicle's slipstream, and passengers gripped tiny handrails. Usain Bolt slid
right and left on the cushion of the passenger seat, the fastest man alive
going even faster. He wore Jamaica's colors—green, yellow and black—on a
T-shirt, and from his neck hung the Olympic 100-meter gold medal. "We
should race a 100 in the cart," said Bolt's agent, Ricky Simms, and Bolt
laughed in a youthful baritone from deep in his chest.
be fast, man," he said. "Very fast." They whipped around a corner,
buzzed up a concrete ramp and into the warm China night, bound for a car that
would drive Bolt back to the Olympic Village.
Fast has new
meaning now. Bolt did not just win the gold medal last Saturday night, he ran
away from the field in 9.69 seconds and broke his 11-week-old world record by
.03 of a second, despite letting up and celebrating the final 10 long strides,
making a joke of the concepts of competition and record-keeping. Not 400 meters
across a concrete courtyard from where Michael Phelps had redefined greatness
in water, Bolt did likewise on dry earth. "They are both freaks of nature;
there is no other way to put it," said Donovan Bailey, the Jamaican-born
Canadian who won the 100 meters at the 1996 Olympics and whose Olympic-record
time of 9.84 Bolt obliterated. "Usain is amazing, absolutely
Now Bolt, just 21
years old and 6'5", stepped from his undersized chariot in a parking lot
lit by tall, ornate streetlamps. Volunteer workers in logo shirts stared and
whispered. "This is why you run," Bolt said. "Definitely, man. All
the time I've been running, I dreamed about getting on the biggest stage and
being a champion someday. Here it is. Big feat, man, big feat."
He is young and
at the same time old at the game. A Jamaican schoolboy legend (no small title
on a sprint-centric island) in his early teens and a world junior champion in
the 200 meters at 15, Bolt did not attempt the 100 on a world-class level until
last summer and broke the world record in only his fourth final. The Olympics
were just his eighth final, and he is speeding the evolution of his event just
as Bob Beamon advanced his (the long jump in 1968) and Michael Johnson his (the
200 in '96). "We're looking at the future," said four-time Olympic
medalist and NBC sprint analyst Ato Boldon. "This kid is something like
we've never seen before."
The 100 meters
was not nearly the conclusion of Bolt's Olympic work. He was scheduled to run
the 200-meter final on Wednesday night, and Johnson's 12-year-old world record
of 19.32 seconds, once thought untouchable, was expected to receive its first
serious assault. "If he gets someone to push him through the corner [turn],
we could see something unbelievable," said Bailey. "I'm thinking
between 19.22 and 19.26."
Bolt is also
expected to anchor Jamaica's 4×100-meter relay on Friday night. He laughed when
he looked ahead, pulling on the brim of a Jamaican team baseball cap. "I
feel very good, man," he said. "Yeah, yeah. I feel strong."
On a breezy
evening some 24 hours later, a trio of Jamaican women added a punctuation mark
to Bolt's feat when Shelly-Ann Fraser won the women's 100-meter gold medal and
Sherone Simpson and Kerron Stewart finished in a dead heat for silver, the
first women's 100-meter medal sweep in Olympic history. Despite having three
sprinters in the field, the U.S. was denied a spot on the podium for the first
time since 1976 (although 2000 became a shutout when Marion Jones was later
stripped of her gold medals for admitted steroid use).
Jamaicans showed up, and we totally didn't," said Lauryn Williams, the
defending silver medalist who placed fourth. "It's very humbling."
Fraser ran a
ripping 10.78 with calm winds, the fastest final time in Olympic history.
(Florence Griffith Joyner ran a wind-aided 10.54 in 1988 and Jones a vacated
10.75 in 2000.) While many Jamaican sprinters have attended college and run
track in the U.S., Fraser, like Bolt, instead stayed home to train with the
growing MVP Track Club in Kingston. She came to prominence while running
barefoot in the Jamaican primary schools' (12-and-under) championship, and her
Olympic time was a personal best by .07. "It was the performance of a
lifetime," Fraser squealed afterward. "I can't stop smiling; my braces
are hurting me."