Friday 23 August, 2019

Looking back at Bolt's 2004 and 2008 Olympic performances

Loop News will each day until the Racers Grand Prix on June 10  be presenting a feature called LAST LAP. The feature includes a series of articles about global sprint star Usain Bolt. 

The 11-time World Champion and eight-time Olympic gold medallist is scheduled to make his final competitive appearance in Jamaica at the Racers Grand Prix  at the National Stadium.

The meet, which will take the form of a tribute to him, will mark the beginning of a staggered exit from competitive track and field, with the World Championships in London in August as his signature exit engagement.

Today Loop News highlights Bolt's performances at the 2004 Athens Olympics and the 2008 Beijing Olympics.


After developing to the point of almost invincibility in the 100m and 200m sprints, Jamaican superstar runner Usain Bolt may not reflect too often on some of the many challenges that he encountered on his way up the ladder of success.

Among the disappointing times for him was his misfortune on his Olympic debut in Athens, Greece in 2004. Then he failed miserably to meet the high expectations of him.

Like any good showman, in heading to Athens, Bolt had outwardly exuded confidence on the back of a world junior record of 19.93 seconds in the 200m event earlier in the year.

However, he was eliminated in the first round of the 200m, with a disappointing time of 21.05 seconds.

Amidst it all, he noticeably flatly rejected offers of training scholarship from American Colleges, opting to stay in his homeland with the less than auspicious training facilities at the University of Technology (UTech) in Jamaica, which had served him well during his amateur years.

Usain Bolt moves away from the field to win the Beijing Olympics 200m title in a world record 19.30 in 2008. (PHOTO: IAAF)


In 2008, Bolt announced that he would double up with the 100m and 200m events at the Beijing Summer Olympics, and the new 100m world-record holder was billed as favourite to win both events.

Even American Michael Johnson, the 200m and 400m king up to that point, with world records at both distances, personally backed Bolt to do the double, saying that he did not believe the Jamaican lack of top-level experience would work against him.

Bolt justified the support with times of 9.92-second and 9.85-second in the quarter-final and semi-final, respectively, to qualify for the 100m final.

Then came the emergence of what noted commentator, Lance Whitaker, has since famously described as the 'Big Engine', when Bolt broke new ground in crossing the finish-line in 9.69 seconds in the final, with a reaction time of 0.165 seconds.

It was an improvement on his own world record of 9.72 seconds, set at the Reebok Grand Prix in the Icahn Stadium in New York City in May 2008 in only his fifth senior 100m race.

Bolt’s Olympic performance was noticeably dominant over second-place finisher, Trinidadian Richard Thompson, who completed the distance in 9.89 seconds.

Not only was the record set without a favourable wind (+0.0 m/s), but Bolt almost got sanctioned for having visibly slowed down to celebrate before he crossed the finish-line, and intriguingly, his shoelace was untied at the end of the race.

His coach, Glen Mills, has estimated that based on the speed of Bolt's opening 60m, he could have finished with a time of 9.52 seconds.

Notably, a scientific analysis of the run by the Institute of Theoretical Astrophysics at the University of Oslo, supported that viewpoint. Hans Eriksen and his colleagues at the institute suggested that a sub-9.60 seconds time had been on the cards.

In considering factors such as Bolt's position, acceleration and velocity, in comparison with second-place-finisher Thompson, the team of analysts estimated that Bolt could have finished in 9.55±0.04 seconds had he not slowed to celebrate before reaching the finish-line.

But after the historic event, Bolt said setting a record was not a priority for him then, and his goal was just to win the gold medal, which was Jamaica's first of the 2008 Games.

Among his detractors for the showmanship towards the end of the race was Olympic medallist, Kriss Akabusi, who described Bolt's chest-slapping before the finish-line as showboating, noting that the actions cost the athlete an even faster record time.

Jacques Rogge, the then IOC President, also condemned Bolt's actions as having been disrespectful of the sport.

But the star athlete denied that this was the purpose of his celebration, saying that, "I wasn't bragging. When I saw I wasn't covered, I was just happy".

In fact, Bolt made a really frightening declaration in his autobiography, 'Usain Bolt 9.58'.

"I was slowing down long before the finish and wasn't tired at all. I could have gone back to the start and done it all over again," he claimed.

In contrast to his IOC counterpart, Lamine Diack, then President of the IAAF, supported Bolt, and said the celebration was appropriate, given the circumstances of the victory.

In the 200m event, it was more of the same, with another 'Lighting Bolt' striking the 'Bird's Nest' in Beijing, as Bolt eclipsed Michael Jordan's 12-year-old record of 19.32 seconds with a 19.30 seconds timing.

On the way to the final, he eased through the first and second rounds of the 200m, jogging towards the end of his run both times.

He then won his semi-final and progressed to the final as the clear favourite to win the event.

With the motivational backing of retired Jamaican sprinter, Donald Quarrie, who expressed confidence that Johnson's record could be broken by the young Jamaican, Bolt went on to claim Jamaica's fourth gold of the Games, setting the new world and Olympic record despite being challenged by a 0.9 m/s headwind.

The feat made him the first sprinter since Quarrie to hold both 100m and 200m world records simultaneously, and the first to hold both records since the introduction of electronic timing.

Additionally, Bolt became the first sprinter to break both records at the same Olympics.

Unlike in the 100m final, Bolt sprinted hard all the way to the finish-line in the 200m event, and even dipped his chest to improve his time and start the ball rolling on his 22nd birthday celebrations only hours later.

But the job was not done, and two days later, Bolt ran the third leg of the Jamaican 4x100-metre relay team’s winning run to claim three gold medals for the Games.

Along with teammates Nesta Carter, Michael Frater and Asafa Powell, Bolt broke another world and Olympic record, with their 37.10-second finish breaking the previous record by three-tenths of a second.

Powell, who anchored the team to the finishing line, expressed disappointment at having lost his 100m world record to Bolt, but said he was delighted to help his fellow Jamaican to set his third world record of the Games.

However, in January 2017, the Jamaican relay team was stripped of the gold medals after a blood sample that was taken from team member Carter after the race, was re-tested nine years later, and came up positive for a banned substance.

Bolt's record-setting runs caused commentators to not only praise his achievements, but also to speculate about his potential to become one of the most successful sprinters ever. That potential has since become a sensational reality.


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