Jamaica's Bolt adds a charge

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

BEIJING -- Must be pretty discouraging to race Usain Bolt.

Not only are you likely to lose -- he'll beat you without even trying.

Look, for example, at the way Bolt won his 200-meter semifinal Tuesday night at the Beijing Games, the latest step in a bid to become the first man since Carl Lewis in 1984 to sweep the Olympic sprint titles.

The Jamaican, who broke his own world record while winning the 100 gold medal in 9.69 seconds last weekend, eased up in the middle of the race Tuesday, figuring he was comfortably ahead and easily on his way to earning a berth in the final.

As he slowed, he realized Shawn Crawford of the United States was coming at full speed, overtaking Bolt in an adjacent lane. So Bolt simply shifted gears and passed Crawford to cross the finish line first.

Essentially, a taking-it-easy, energy-conserving Bolt was better than a seemingly going-all-out Crawford -- who, do not forget, is the defending Olympic champion in the 200.

Asked about his gait, Bolt said: "I wouldn't say 'jogging.' I'm just trying to get through to the next round. I didn't know if he was running. I just wanted to make sure I was in good position. I was looking at Crawford, and then I decided to look at the board to see where everybody else was."

Bolt spends a lot of time checking out the overhead video screens at the Bird's Nest. Usually, though, he's checking out himself.

Before the start of Bolt's 200 semifinal, the stadium announcer read off the names of the entrants, pausing to mention the resume highlights of some. When it was Bolt's turn, this is what came over the speakers: "In Lane 6, a man who needs no introduction."

Hearing his cue, Bolt went into a prerace routine that would make a professional wrestler proud, keeping a careful watch on those video screens.

He rubbed his hands over his short hair, pretending to smooth down a coif, then drew his fingers across his eyebrows, all part of his look-at-me message.

He pointed his index fingers at himself on those screens, then used his hands to form a frame around the "Jamaica" written on his shirt.

"I like to enjoy what I do," Bolt said. "You can't be too serious in your job."

His job, of course, is to run fast, and he does that quite well, thank you. Bolt finished in 20.09 seconds, followed by Crawford in 20.12, then two-time world championship medalist Wallace Spearmon of the United States in 20.14.

Bolt and Spearmon are buddies, and they clowned around with each other after the finish. While Bolt was doing a TV interview at trackside, Spearmon sneaked up and stuck two fingers behind the Jamaican's head -- those "rabbit ears" a mischievous 9-year-old might use on a sibling in a family photo.

Later, they took turns interrupting other sessions with reporters by pouring cold drinks on each other.

"He's just playful, and he loves the sport -- someone who will race all the time, someone who won't duck, won't hide, won't take drugs. You can't ask for anything better," Spearmon said. "If you look back in the old days, people were always doing that, and that's what drew attention to the sport. So it's good to have someone like that around."

Good for the sport, yes.

Not necessarily good for opponents.

The 6-foot-5 Bolt might just be on his way to completely redefining sprinting, long thought to be the domain of shorter athletes.

"His stride is out of this world," said 400-meter medal contender LaShawn Merritt. "He's the future of track and field."

Up next for Bolt is the 200 final today, and he's been so good over the past few days that the buzz at the Bird's Nest is over whether Michael Johnson's 1996 world record of 19.32 seconds could fall.

Consider, after all, that Bolt broke the 100 mark Saturday even though he goofed around over the closing 20 or so meters, slowing down to stretch out his arms, smack his chest and mug for the cameras.

In the 200 final, Bolt promised to "run my heart out" -- something he has yet to do for a full race at these Olympics.

"I wouldn't put anything past him right now," Spearmon said.

To look at it another way: If nobody has been able to catch Bolt when he was slowing down, how is anybody going to beat him if he runs all out?

No matter how Bolt fares, it's safe to say he'll be hamming it up. Before the race, without a doubt, and again if he gets another gold.

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