Christmas eve has drawn nigh, and one wonders what has been left under Usain Bolt's tree.
He has captured nearly every imaginable and conceivable award and adulation for his accomplishments in 2008, and has been handsomely rewarded with name and brand recognition which stretches around the globe.
What gift will Bolt unwrap this year which can top those he received at this time some 52 weeks ago? Is there any solitary imaginable one which could rival the six-fold one he received with his Olympic ticket, namely three gold medals and three world records to match?
If he needs a ticket to fame, he needn't look any further than a click of the mouse: Usain Bolt's name is splashed on every news feed of note, even to this day, as 2008 winds down and the fairytale season is remembered on top-10 lists in a newspaper near you.
Bolt drew the ire of International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge for showboating during the men's 100-meter dash on the biggest stage of world sport, but drew the adoration of hundreds of millions of fans for his childlike demonstration of sheer excitement for winning a race against competitors far more experienced than he.
What about just giving the man a car and some alone time following an off-season which appeared to be more hectic than his in-season travel and commitments? On second thought, hold off on that one. BMW and Puma have already teamed up and done just that. Mr. Bolt took custody of a black BMW M3 which Puma had shipped to him just before Christmas.
Perhaps a suitable gift for Bolt would be Sports Illustrated unveiling their Sportsman of the Year award, a single-copy edition which could serve as motivation for 2009—a world championship year which will be filled with higher expectations than Bolt could possibly have dreamed of when he took up the challenge of dropping down in distance this year, and tackling a man who had won his island nation's heart, captured the citizens' imaginations, but had not won any global title of note.
Sports Illustrated missed a beat when it had Michael Phelps lean ahead of Bolt to win Sportsman of the Year Award. The IAAF, Track & Field News and L'Equipe, didn't, however, each awarding the lanky Jamaican sensation its top honours, respectively.
We as fans received an extra gift this year, as the Olympic Games were held during a leap year and were kicked off on a very sacred and superstitious day for the Chinese, namely the eighth day of the eighth month of the eighth year of this century.
Eights may have been wild for the 21 percent of the world population located in the host country, but there is only a single integer which will remain in the history annals for all-time, whether or not the times, themselves, are lowered by Usain Bolt—and that is the number "one".
Try these on for size:
- Usain Bolt ended the 2008 season as the number one sprinter in the 100m.
- Usain Bolt ended the 2008 season as the number one sprinter in the 200m.
- Usain Bolt ended the 2008 season as the world record-holder in the 100m.
- Usain Bolt ended the 2008 season as the world record-holder in the 200m.
- Usain Bolt ended the 2008 season as history's quickest from 0-100m.
- Usain Bolt ended the 2008 season as history's quickest from 0-10 under 10,00.
- Usain Bolt ended the 2008 season with the greatest cumulative average for his top-10.
- Usain Bolt also ended the 2008 season with one loss, bringing full-circle the true value of that number.
Taking a closer look, Bolt ended the 2008 season with the best average time for his top-10 races in a season, though Asafa Powell ran the season of his life as well:
- 1. Usain Bolt, JAM, 2008 -- 9.820 (9.69, 9.72, 9.76, 9.77, 9.83, 9.85, 9.85, 9.89, 9.92, 9.92)
- 2. Asafa Powell, JAM, 2008 -- 9.837 (9.72, 9.77, 9.82, 9.82, 9.83, 9.87, 9.87, 9.88, 9.89, 9.90)
- 3. Asafa Powell, JAM, 2006 -- 9.867 (9.77, 9.77, 9.85, 9.85, 9.86, 9.86, 9.89, 9.91, 9.95, 9.96)
Powell needed to run 9.81 and 9.80 in his final two races in order to drop 9.90 and 9.91 from his top-10 and finishes, .01 ahead of Bolt's top-10 season average—no easy feat, despite one's willpower; the season had already been long enough, the Olympics had come and gone, and the chances at redemption were slimming down.
Powell failed in those attempts at the World Athletics Final (9.87) and at Pedro's Cup (9.89), however, he did conclude his season by running exceptionally well, stopping the clock under 9.90 in seven consecutive races. Moreover, Powell was able to legally stop the clock under 10.00 on 15 occasions in 2008—seven more than he did in 2007, and three more than in 2006 when he twice ran world-record times of 9.77 seconds.
In keeping with the integer "one", here's one more: Only one other man in history has been able to run faster without stopping than the sum (19.41) of Bolt's top-two 100m times, a man whom Bolt removed from atop the totem pole in the men's 200m dash and carved his name with the immortal ones who have defied belief.
358 days ago, the New Year's bells were clanging, many fans were set out for their festivities and the favourite to win the Olympic 100m and 200m titles—as well as the 4x100m title, was prepping for his spring campaign, one which would see him run excellent 4x100m relay legs in order to race into shape without laying down the hammer ahead of the strenuous rounds he'd have to endure at the USA Olympic Trials, and again in Beijing if everything went well.
It didn't matter that his name was Tyson Gay, and he was fresh off of winning three gold medals at the IAAF World Championships in Osaka, Japan—two individual ones and a team gold in the short relay—he still had to put in the work, perfect his timings and hope that he'd have it all on the days which mattered.
Another man was attempting to find a magic formula to enable his own successes, despite the fact that he was entering the season as the 100m world-record holder (9.74, Rieti). Asafa Powell put on excellent displays of speed at stadiums around the globe, but he'd never managed to win the big one when it counted. He was hoping 2008 would provide that break-through, rather than relegating him to just a great Grand Prix racer.
Then there was Bolt, a young man who was entering the new year 138 days past his 21st birthday, setting his sights on a 400m workout to start his season, then working his way down to the 100m, a distance his coach promised he could attempt in a season which turned out to be the finest in the history of athletics for male sprinting.
Usain Bolt upped the ante early, running a 46.94 400m on an ugly day in the Jamaican capital on Jan. 26. Bolt won the 10th heat with the fastest time of the day—running 1.66 off his lifetime best set on the exact same day a year earlier. He also defeated Powell (48.76) as he had the year before.
Powell's finish behind Bolt wasn't yet an omen of things to come, as he had managed to outclass his younger competitor in the overall rankings at the end of the 2007 season, but it was the start of something Powell would become quite accustomed to seeing the rest of the 2008 season, namely Bolt's back.
Powell didn't see Bolt's back at the Melbourne Grand Prix in February, winning his signature event, the 100m, in a modest 10.04 seconds. He'd shaken off the dust from the previous year and competed very well despite a nagging injury he carried during training down in Australia. Powell would wait an additional four months to the date before he'd next step on the track for a 100m race, though he would team up with two of the eventual three teammates he'd share 4x100m glory with in Beijing for an early 39.22 clocking in Kingston on March 22.
Expectations for Bolt, meanwhile, were beginning to rise as the world junior 200m record-holder had accepted an invitation to compete in his first-ever senior 100m dash, with Spanish Town serving as host to what would be Bolt's launch into immortality—er, the record books. American Michael Johnson's half-lap record was once thought untouchable. Bolt finished first in the 100m dash that day—March 8—speeding to a very respectable 10.03 seconds.
Gay, the hands-down favourite to win the coveted title of "world's fastest man," meanwhile, played anchor to three four-by-one relay teams, helping the United States win the Texas Relays in 38.63 seconds, an adidas all-star team capture the Mt. Sac Relays (38.51), and bringing home another national team to a fourth-place finish at the Penn Relays (39.38).
Seven weeks of training and focus—coupled with an apetite to push his tall frame under the 10-second barrier in front of his home crowd—led Bolt to the starting line at the Jamaica Invitational on May 3. Many of the world's major players were at the meet, with Wallace Spearmon—Bolt's 200m nemesis—as well as Darvis Patton, Kim Collins, and Mike Rodgers in Bolt's heat, and Gay opting for the 200m dash.
That Bolt would win the premiere event of the day against the Americans was fathomable—he entered with the fastest time of the year in the field. That Bolt would scream through the 10.00 barrier, under 9.90, and well under 9.80 in his second professional race is another "first" for the history books. Bolt stopped the finish-line clock at 9.76 seconds—only 0.02 seconds off of Powell's world record, and the second-fastest clocking in history. No man had ever chopped so much time off his personal best whilst crossing the magical 10-flat barrier, and no man's margin of victory—0.32 seconds—had been larger.
Bolt was suddenly thrust into contention for the heavyweight title of track and field, the coveted 100m title. Gay took exactly 20 seconds to go from 0-200m without stopping, but the attention had clearly shifted to Bolt, who would agree to a man-to-man 100m sprint to be contested against Gay and others in New York exactly four weeks later.
Bolt had another appearance to make ahead of that scheduled stop, however, and he didn't fail to deliver, winning the Hampton Games in Trinidad on May 14 in a blistering 9.92—his second-consecutive race under 10.00 and a time which was still faster than any man had run up to that point in the season. Gay would respond with a 10.05-20.08 double victory at the adidas classic in Carson, Calif., the following day, with the 200m run into a negative 1.7 wind.
Road to Beijing: Christmas Present Number One
Countdown: T-minus 13 days to the clash of the world champion against the man who had a faster personal best, but who lost to that deserving champion over double the distance the previous year.
Bolt smashed Gay's pride, stole his thunder and erased Powell from the record books in one fell swoop on the 31st day (+1) of May in New York, crossing the line first at 9.72 seconds—a 0.04 improvement over his previous best; his third consecutive race under 10.00; more than 1/10th of a second ahead of Gay's best (9.84); and the fastest ever legally run on American soil.
Gay, who won the 2007 edition in a windy 9.76 (+2.2 m/s), finished with a superb 9.85 clocking, but was left to concern himself with the upcoming USA Olympic Trials. The night in New York belonged to Bolt, the man who was attempting to become the world's fastest.
You know the rest of the drill for Gay: he reigned supreme in the USA Olympic Trials, the timing system in Eugene, Ore., came under heavy suspicion from pundits, Gay was carted off the track during his 200m qualifying, and he disappeared until such time that the Oympics were to commence—where eights were straight, ones were wild and Usain Bolt wasn't playing by conventional rules.
OK, Gay did a bit more than run wild at his national championships, he broke through with monstrous performances in the quarters, semi-final and final, where he ran a personal best 9.77 (qf), followed up with a 9.85w in his semi, and recorded history's fastest under all conditions, a 9.68 (+4,1 m/s)—removing Marion Jones' husband, Obadele Thompson, as the title holder.
Bolt opened his Olympic experience with a 10.20 and 9.95 during his first two races, and followed those up with a 9.85 semi-final run—his third race in 24 hours with the final coming a few hours later. That he would not only blow logic out of the window during the final with his 9.69 after easing during the latter half of the race, but would run nearly as fast as had Gay had with a hurricane wind behind him and equal the second-fastest under any conditions, was unreal, unbelievable, and ultimately un-human.
Somewhere in the middle of it all was Asafa Powell, who, again, failed to win the big one despite the incredible in-season CV (9.88 victory over Bolt here in Stockholm and a 9.82 final tune-up in Monaco) he brought to the final.
Christmas Present Number Two For Bolt
Bolt, who has a penchant for speed and a need to demonstrate it—he was able to test his new M3 at the BMW Vehicle Test Facility in Aschheim, near Münich following the Olympics—didn't disappoint in the 200m, either, despite the media frenzy and circus which followed his coronation as world's fastest man.
One day before his 22nd birthday, Bolt, contesting his fifth 200m final of the season—the previous four were all victories, and each under 20.00 (three under 19.90, two under 19.80 and one under 19.70), flew off the curve on a mission to the finish line, driving, pumping and leaning with all of his might as the clock read 19.30, a new world record.
Michael Johnson, once accused of having his braids twirled too tightly during some trash-talking with Maurice Greene back during their heated rivalry, meet Usain Bolt, who had been accused of show-boating and not respecting his competitors. Mr. Bolt has just taken over your record, one which many a fan stated would last their lifetimes.
Christmas Present Number Three
Finally, as the season of giving is upon us, and was so at this time last year, let's think about the third and final gift Usain Bolt left the sport in Beijing, namely the best demonstration of speed, willpower, teamwork and hand-offs to ever circle once around a track. Ever.
Puma threw Bolt a great birthday bash during the heart of the Olympic Games. Their man delivered on the grandest stage of them all, and the company was not at all reluctant to reward their superstar with a grand bash which included Asafa Powell and others. Following Bolt's birthday, however, it was back to business for one final event on the track: the 4x100m relay.
Jamaica, which made it through the semi-final unscathed as they watched the Americans fail to finish due to botched hand-offs, fielded a team of Nesta Carter, Michael Frater, Usain Bolt, and Asafa Powell. As previously mentioned, Powell, Carter, and Frater had contested this event on two previous occasions, with Bolt, the Olympic champion, being the replacement guy on the team.
The initial stages of the race are a blur—something which Youtube has enabled me to recollect for later use. That's of least consequence here, however, as the third leg—which Usain Bolt ran to hand off to Asafa Powell—must have been the fastest curve ever run by anyone under any conditions, stick or sans. Bolt, passing off the baton to Powell, came up on his countryman and friend with a fury, full of run, up to his neck in foot speed and with a mouth full of encouragement for his teammate unrated for general viewing here. He appeared to be running with Powell for several metres as Powell began the descent home, and may have held off the remaining competition had he taken the stick and run a full 200m, instead of handing it to Powell.
Powell dug deeper than I have ever seen him do before, struggled to keep his form as he neared the finish line, with the collective crowd at the Bird's Nest roaring in delight as he leaned and stopped the clock 37.10 seconds after it began ticking on command from the firing pistol.
Bolt was part of his third world record in as many races, and his name and fame have not died down since, nor did his speed as he ended his season on high notes of 9.83-19.63-9.77 in the subsequent three meets following the Olympic Games.
I last wrote to you that I've finally taken the foot off the gas and have had an opportunity to reflect on the greatest sprint season which ever was—only to discover that 2009 is fast approaching with all of its suprises—both good and bad.
As Usain Bolt sits by an open fire and celebrates Christmas with his relatives and friends, I can only imagine what Bolt has wished for himself for the 2009 season. All of his wishes last season came true, and his gifts keep giving even as we speak and write. Scientists hope that Bolt can run completely through the finish line once at full speed, because they have predicted he can run 100m in 9.5 seconds.
Only Bolt knows what it feels like to drive that M3, loaded with 414 horse power, at full speed. Here's to hoping he will demonstrate the equivalent on the track as well.
Usain Bolt's 2008 season over 100m:
- 10.03 (+1.8) Classics Spanish Town 8 Mar
- 9.76 (+1.8) Jamaica Inv Kingston 3 May
- 9.92 (+0.6) HamptonG Port-of-Spain 17 May
- 9.72 WR (+1.7) Reebok New York NY 31 May
- 10.19 (+1.0) National Champs Kingston 27 Jun
- 9.85 (-0.1) National Champs Kingston 28 Jun
- 10.40 (-2,0) National Champs Kingston 28 Jun
- 9.89 (+0.4) DNG Stockholm 22 Jul
- 10.20 (-0.2) Olympics Beijing 15 Aug
- 9.92 (+0.1) Olympics Beijing 15 Aug
- 9.85 (-0.1) Olympics G Beijing 16 Aug
- 9.69 WR (+/- 0.0) Olympics Beijing 16 Aug
- 9.83 (-0.5) Weltklasse Zürich 29 Aug
- 9.77 (-1.3) Van Damme Bruxelles 5 Sep