Usain Bolt leads red-hot Olympic 100M men's field
By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency
Jamaica's Usain Bolt makes his first appearance at the London Olympics in the men's 100m event during the London 2012 Olympic Games Saturday. (AL CHAREST/QMI AGENCY)
In introducing the field for the fifth of seven first-round heats for the men’s 100-metre final, the in-house announcer at Olympic Stadium bothered with but one of the eight contestants.
“Welcome for the first time to the London 2012 Olympics, the world’s fastest man.”
On cue, the 80,000 on hand for Saturday’s afternoon session erupted and again on cue, Usain Bolt responded.
For several seconds the Jamaican superstar rubbed his head, preened for the crowd and then went about the business of becoming the star of the greatest sporting show on earth.
If there was any doubt that London organizers have invested significantly in making much of these Games about Bolt and his cast of swift-stepping sidekicks, it blew out the open top of the stadium on the first day of competition in the showcase event.
The lightning-fast track — which has yielded eye-popping results and a buzz of its own — may see Bolt’s world record 9.58 destroyed, possibly as early as th
e semifinal rounds early Sunday evening.
Typically, the cream rises to the top rather easily in the preliminary stage, but with so many stars sprinkled through the seven heats, even this was rich with sensational and compelling theatre.
Each of the top five contenders breezed through their heats with victories and a sixth was fastest of them all.
There was Bolt, who quite truthfully was somewhat modest in his effort, which perhaps only heightens the intrigue for Sunday night. After stumbling five strides into his run, the Jamaican flash righted himself, ran hard for about 40 metres then cruised to the line repeatedly glancing over his left shoulder.
The time of 10.09 was both irrelevant and impressive, mainly because of the miscue and the ease with which he can move so fast.
“I expected (to win), I’m running well,” Bolt said, a message to the doubters who feel he may not even be the best Jamaican sprinter here. “I made a bad step and I stumbled a bit. I’m glad it happened now.”
There was American Ryan Bailey who came here as just the eighth-fastest sprinter this year before unleashing a 9.88 blast, the fastest-ever recorded in the opening round at an Olympics.
There was the 2004 Olympic champ, Justin Gatlin, who showed he may have one more left in him after winning his heat in 9.97.
There was Tyson Gay, the top American contender who was visually impressive in his easy 10.08 clocking.
And what about Yohan Blake, another Jamaican and training partner to Bolt? Blake sent shockwaves through the sport when he upset the main man.
Even if London 2012 doesn’t get a repeat of the Beijing Bolt show, they may actually have something better. With all of the contenders holding their form on Saturday and a souped-up track, it’s conceivable that all eight who make the final could streak below the 10-second barrier.
“The track was super fast and you feel the magic out there,” Gatlin said. “The spectators are going to get a good show.”
And what a show it will be on Sunday night, first in the semifinal and then minutes before 10 p.m. here, the event that tends to stop every Olympics.
The fans were certainly primed for it on Saturday as Olympic Park was swarming with Jamaican and American flags both in and outside of the stadium. An American sprinter has won 16 of 26 Olympic golds and Gatlin, Gay and Bailey are at least a threat to the Jamaican duo.
The bookmakers, by the way, aren’t buying into Bolt’s struggles or the rumours that his fitness is nowhere near what it was four years ago and have made him the 8-13 favourite to join Carl Lewis as the only male to have back-to-back 100-metre Olympic golds. Blake has the world-leading time of 9.75 this year, but it’s just .01 better than Bolt.
Win or lose, the world’s fastest man will put on a show — and if he keeps the title, will likely have a lower number to go beside it.
Several journalists have handicapped the 100M men's field. Here's who each believes will take the gold medal:
Rob Longley, Toronto Sun: Usain Bolt
Gary Shelton, Tampa Bay Times: Yohan Blake
Bob Kravitz, Indianapolis Star: Justin Gatlin
Wayne Coffey, New York Daily News: Ryan Bailey
James Lawton, The Independent: Yohan Blake
Phil Sheridan, Philadelphia Inquirer: Usain Bolt
Geoff Calkins, Memphis Commercial Appeal: Yohan Blake
Mark Purdy, San Jose Mercury News: Usain Bolt
Chris Stevenson, QMI Agency: Yohan Blake
Lisa Dillman, Los Angeles Times, Usain Bolt
Michael Farber, Sports Illustrated: Yohan Blake
Steve Buffery, Toronto Sun: Usain Bolt
Nick Cotsonika, yahoo.ca: Yohan Blake
Jeff Simmons, sportsnet.ca: Usain Bolt
Dave Stubbs, Montreal Gazette: Usain Bolt
Steve McAllister, yahoo.ca: Usain Bolt