Former sprint champs awed by Usain Bolt

By RON FANFAIR

When Usain Bolt set a record in the 200-metre event at the World Youth Championships in Sherbrooke, Quebec six years ago, then-world 200- and 400-metres record holder Michael Johnson noted the Jamaican’s potential but worried that too much pressure might be placed on his young shoulders.

“It’s all about what he does four, five years down the line,” Johnson said at the time.

Johnson need not have worried. In fact, during a forum in Toronto last week to discuss Bolt’s phenomenal rise and success, both he and Dr. Edwin Moses agreed that, the world is yet to see the best of this particular Jamaican.

The 22-year-old set Olympic and world records in the 100-, 200- and 4 x 100-metre events in Beijing last summer. He became the first athlete to win all three events at an Olympics since Carl Lewis in 1984 and the first runner to set world records in all three races in a single Olympics.

Johnson, who won four Olympic and eight World Championship gold medals, said Bolt’s performance in Beijing last year was the most incredible he has ever witnessed at a major championship and predicts that he can go faster than the 9.69 secs. he clocked in the 100-metre sprint.

“I think he has the ability to break his own record because, had he run through the finish line in Beijing, he would have run a faster time than he did,” suggests Johnson. “The problem is that he will never have this opportunity again. There will never be a first Olympics for him again and the first opportunity to become an Olympic gold medalist. There will never be a first opportunity for him to break a world record at an Olympics. All of those factors are certainly a part of his performance and why he was able to perform so great. It was a unique opportunity for him.”

Bolt broke Johnson’s 12-year 200-metre world record, clocking 19.32 secs. which was 0.02 secs. faster than the American.

“In all honesty, there are no tactics for Usain in the 200,” Johnson said. “The gun goes off and he runs as fast as he can because he can afford to do that. Most athletes can’t. I was almost able to do that. It’s a very, very long sprint and I was able to do it simply because I was a lot more efficient as an athlete in the style of running and I trained with a focus on speed endurance which came naturally for me as a 400- and 200-metre runner where traditionally most of your 200-metre specialists were people who just basically moved themselves up from the 100-metre event.

“It’s very difficult for a 100-sprinter to move up, double the distance and sustain that level of speed. It’s different for Bolt though, because of his stride length. That sets him apart from other runners.”

Johnson said he’s looking forward to the meeting between Bolt and American, Tyson Gay, who suffered a hamstring injury in the 2008 U.S Olympic trials that hampered his preparation for Beijing. Gay ran the third fastest 200-metre race in history last month at the Reebok Grand Prix in New York, breasting the tape in 19.58 secs.

“Tyson has three of the top 10 times in the event which is more than I registered so he has proven himself to be a great 200-metre runner,” said Johnson. “I think he knows that this is his opportunity to challenge Usain and that’s one of the match-ups I am anticipating this year.”

The two could meet at the world outdoor championships in Berlin in August.

The holder of the 400-metre record of 43.19 secs., set in Seville a decade ago, Johnson feels that Bolt can run the long sprint in 42 seconds with “the right kind of training”.

“For the 100- and 200-metre races, he goes out there and just runs very fast,” said Johnson. “In the 400, you can’t do that. There is a general blueprint for running this event which you have to tailor to your skill set…For me, the key was separating the two races and not allowing myself to think about, talk about or be interviewed about the 200-metre race until after I had completed the 400-metre event.

Moses concurred, adding that the 400-metre race requires patience.

“When you have a guy who is running 19.3, he’s going to have to pace himself at 20.5 to 21 flat or whatever it is going to be and be able to run at that speed which is a lot slower around the curve and then holding at the end,” said Moses, who set a world record in the 400-metre hurdles at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

Following the discussion, Bolt was presented with the prestigious Laureus World Sports Academy award. The other finalists were U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps who won eight gold medals in Beijing, Lewis Hamilton who became the youngest ever Formula One world champion at age 23, tennis player Rafael Nadal who captured the French, Wimbledon and Olympic tennis titles, World Soccer Player of the Year, Cristiano Ronaldo and Italian motorcycle racer, Valentino Rossi.

“It says something about the sporting quality of our winner that he has beaten a man who won eight gold medals in one Olympic Games,” said Moses. “That’s truly remarkable. This year’s winner had to be something special and he really is.”

Bolt attributed his incredible success to determination and hard work and suggested he can cover 100 metres in 9.5 secs.

“It will, however, take a lot of work to get there,” he said. “The thing about it is, I do not go for times – it’s all about winning championships. If I work hard, the times will be good.”

Bolt admitted that he’s not ready to tackle the 400-metre event.

“That will take a lot of hard work,” he said. “You have to be really on the ball at all times for this event. I will think about it, but I am not sure.”

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