Last night Jamaica’s Usain Bolt continued to separate himself from the mortals by winning his third consecutive gold medal in the 100 meter dash. Going into the race, it appeared that Bolt had a sub 9.7 effort in him, judging by his preliminary rounds, when he pumped the brakes well before the tape.
The US’s Justin Gatlin, fresh off of a four-year doping suspension, not only started well, he was at least stride-for-stride with Bolt at 75 meters. Bolt, running out of lane 6, was in a fair position to peripherally view his competitors. This was the most contested of his three 100 meter golds. He overtook Gatlin in the final 10 meters to win in 9.81 seconds. Galtin posted a 9.89—highly impressive for a 34-year-old—and became, with Bolt, only the second male to medal in three different Olympic 100 meter dash finals. Canada’s Andre DeGrasse earned bronze by finishing in 9.91. Jamaica’s Yohan Blake, who has battled injuries himself this season, placed fourth in 9.93. (Blake won 100 meter silver at the 2012 London Games.)
Also breaking 10 seconds were fifth-place finisher Akani Simbine of South Africa (9.94) and Ben Youseff Meite of Cote D’Ivoire who raced sixth in 9.96.
Bolt’s 9.81 finish, which was .001 second slower than his semi-final victory, was the slowest of his three Olympic 100 meter golds, though, no one on the planet has emerged to challenge him in this event. He has never even lost a heat. Gatlin’s effort was the most stern competition Bolt has faced of the ’08, ’12, and ’16 World’s Fastest Human crowns. (Both athletes scheduled to race in the 200 meters race on Thurs., Aug. 18.)
History was also made in a men’s 400-meter final that featured the 2008 Olympic champ, LaShawn Merritt of the US, 2012 Olympic gold medalist Kirani James of Grenada, and 2015 World Champion at the Beijing championships Wayde van Newkirk, a young South African.
When van Newkirk won world’s, he and two fellow sprinters ran sub-44 seconds, which was a first. Thus the 400 finals field was more formidable than that in the more highly publicized and anticipated men’s 100. Merritt, who is a world class 200-meter sprinter, led early, and James came along with him. Yet van Newkirk operated fluidly from gun to tape, and toward the close, easily overtook the Grenadan and the Yank. He finished in 43.03, breaking a 17-year-old world mark held by Michael Johnson (43.18). It appeared all too easy.
In the 200, Bolt and Merritt will meet each other halfway. The former holds the world standard, an uncanny 19.19 (Michael Johnson had run 19.32 in Atlanta to set a record some felt would stand for decades). Bolt is underraced this season with a sore hamstring, but managed a victory in 19.89 at The Diamond League event in London. Canada’s DeGrasse will also compete in the 200, as will his countryman Brendon Rodney, who broke 20 seconds this year with a 19.96.
Other sprinters to watch are Gatlin, whose 19.75 won the US trials, and finished second to Bolt at the 2015 Beijing world’s; LaShawn Merritt, the 400 meter doubler, with a 19.79 in Nassau and a 19.75 in the semi’s of the US trials this campaign; Antigua & Barbuda’s Miguel Francis, who recently recorded a 19.88; and Ameer Webb of the US, whose international season was highlighted by a 19.85 in The Diamond League. Yohan Blake is also entered, despite an injury-riddled season, while Nery Brenes of Costa Rica should challenge into the later rounds, if not the finals.
The men’s 200 finals should include several of these athletes, and also promises to be stronger than that in the 2016 men’s 100 (to take nothing away from Bolt, whose winning time would have won any Olympic final non-inclusive of his own previous ones). It will take a scorching pace to win it, which will push Bolt, not necessarily to erase his stratospheric 19.19, but to a very respectable time and performance. It could require a sub 19.7 to take the victory platform here.