Before Usain Bolt’s attempt to win this third consecutive Olympic 200 meter dash gold medal, we forecast it would take around a 19.7 to win the race. In his semi-final heat, Bolt was challenged by young Canadian Andre DeGrasse, with whom he famously exchanged smiles as they approached the tape in the 100m final. Bolt sped to a 19.78 finish, DeGrasse 19.80. The closeness of that round sparked speculation DeGrasse could push Bolt, who has been bothered by a hamstring injury this season, to a respectable time in the final. In the semi-final, one US hope, Justin Gatlin, ran 20.13, and failed to advance. His countryman LaShawn Merritt, also a 400 meter contestant, moved on at 19.94. France’s Christophe Lemaitre ran 20.01, and Panama’s Alonso Edward 20.07, but only the athletes under 20.00, DeGrasse and Merritt, seemed qualified to push Bolt in a final.
The gold medal race was, as with all Bolt finals, a separation of classes. Bolt, who holds the world record at an astonishing 19.19, began well, and accelerated past rivals such as Merritt well before the turn. He appeared fluid, confident, and at 6’5”, dominated the lanes with his stature and swiftness. It was almost immediately clear that, barring re-injury, or an unlikely late burst by a challenger, he would win his third 200 gold. Only the margin loomed as a question. That curiosity was soon erased, as the straightaway revealed the size of Bolt’s lead.
Try as DeGrasse might, finals Bolt is a performer nonpareil. His stride is too long, and his power and poise too much to overcome. The race was really for the silver, as the world had become fond of DeGrasse since the sporting semi-final. In the last 10 meters, Bolt appeared to dial something back in the knowledge he was assured the victory platform, and his stride frequency decreased a gear. This was of no assistance to the other participants, and turned out not to be Bolt saving his hamstring for the upcoming men’s 4 × 100 meter relay—where he will have his first opportunity to threepeat as a 100 meter, 200 meter, and relay gold medalist. Bolt later said in interviews he aspired to a faster 200, but was unable to maintain peak speed near the close, likely due to age.
As it was, his winning time was 19.78, identical to his semi, and very close to his opening heats. DeGrasse came in at 20.02 for his silver. Lemaitre ran 20.12, also slower than his penultimate effort. The next to cross were Adam Gemili of Great Britain (also 20.12), Dutchman Churandy Martina in 20.13, and Merritt in 20.19. Edward of Panama was seventh. Despite his disappointment in not producing a faster time, only Bolt broke 20.00.
Now the 400 meter relay is ahead, with finals scheduled for tonight. The Jamaican quartet is favored, what with Bolt and 100 meter finalist Yohan Blake on board. The US, host Brazil, Great Britain, Japan, China, Canada, and Trinidad & Tobago round out the field. Though baton exchanges often help determine outcomes, in an uneventful and incident-free relay, no nation has a balanced enough foursome to give its anchor racer enough advantage to hold off Bolt on the final leg. Jamaica runs out of lane four. The UK drew awkward lane one, where it is difficult to see competitors, the Trinidadians are in lane eight, also not an ideal vantage point. The US team led by Olympic veterans Tyson Gay and Justin Gatlin, races out of lane three next to the Jamaicans. Canada, featuring Brendon Rodney and DeGrasse, could make the medal stand. While this year’s Jamaican contingent is not as deep as when Asafa Powell was in his heyday, the US and England also do not have units as strong as traditional precedents. Therefore, though the likelihood anyone will gain much of third leg lead over Jamaica is not high, Canada or the US could still be “in touch” with the defending Olympic champion islanders as Bolt awaits the stick on the backstretch. All signs, including his physical condition, point to Bolt becoming the first athlete to earn gold in the 100, 200 and relays a third straight time. As mortals, we need only witness, and appreciate the tower of lightning’s final moment on the Olympic stage.
Bijan C. Bayne is the author of Martha’s Vineyard Basketball: How a Resort League Defied Notions of Race & Class