The Olympics have pretty much dominated our lives over the past 15 days, the highlight of the events being Indian athletes performing better than expected and winning medals, and the other the absolute star of the Olympics – the track and field events. Our favourites are the running events 100m, 200m, 400m, 110m hurdles, 4×100 relay and so on.
The love affair with track and field started in the 80’s. This was when Carl Lewis was at his peak and dominated men’s athletics. Lewis was a dominant sprinter and long jumper who topped the world rankings in the 100m, 200m and long jump events frequently from 1981 to the early 1990s, was named Athlete of the Year by Track & Field News in 1982, 1983, and 1984, and set world records in the 100m, 4×100m and 4×200m relays. His world record in the indoor long jump has stood since 1984 and his 65 consecutive victories in the long jump achieved over a span of 10 years is one of the sport’s longest undefeated streaks. We have been blessed to have watched the man perform at the highest level. Watching Carl Lewis run was like poetry in motion, and the ease he ran with is something athletes find hard to emulate even today. On emulating style I think most runners now adopt the aggressive stance and style of Ben Johnson, he was Lewis’s nemesis and in the 1998 Olympics outran and beat Lewis. You had to watch Johnson in action – he was built like the Incredible Hulk and demolished everything and anything that came in his path, a pity that he was also a steroid freak – this resulted in Lewis being awarded the Olympic gold in ’88.
From there on we kept following the running events on and off; I think the peak was when the world championships would happen. Stars like Donavan Bailey, Justin Gatling, Linford Cristie, Maurice Green, Asafa Powel all took centre stage during the ’90’s into 2000 – these were super athletes, not only did they dominate their sport they also had a charisma which had reporters chasing them off the tracks. These men ran under the 10 second mark and put on a show that few others could. Of course, with the fame came issues of using steroids, bans on events, etc. But this never took away from the excitement of watching them on the idiot box; I remember cheering for Donavan Bailey in a particular meet and when he won our living room exploded with excitement. Of course, we have also followed the likes of Sebastian Coe, Sergei Bubka, Florence Griffin Joyner, Edwin Moses, Michael Johnson, etc., but none of them were as explosive as the sprinters. Speaking off Michael Johnson, he matched the sprinters in their flamboyance and also brought a one off style to athletics, he is the only male athlete in history to win both the 200m dash and 400m dash events at the same Olympics, a feat he accomplished at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Johnson is also the only man to successfully defend his Olympic title in the 400m. Aside from his Olympic success, Johnson accumulated eight gold medals at World Championships, and is thus tied with Carl Lewis for the most gold medals won by any runner in history.
Enough about the past moving onto the present. None of the above mentioned athletes come close to the current Track and Field sensation Usain Bolt. He emerged on the scene in 2008 and has taken the athletic world by storm – his 2008 season began with his first performance – a 100m world record of 9.72 s – and culminated in world and Olympic records in both the 100m and 200m events at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. He ran 9.69 s for the 100m and 19.30 s in the 200m, and also set a 4×100m relay record of 37.10 s with the Jamaican team. Bolt’s greatest achievement though, is shattering the World Record in the 100m – the time 9.58. A lot has been written about Bolt and how his casual attitude will eventually get the better of him; this due to the fact that he was miles ahead of the field in the last Olympics and pretty much eased up towards the finish; purists believe he should have put his head down and run all the way, but Bolt chose to enjoy the moment. From then, till now, there have been races he has not won, false started and lost in, he even came 2nd in the Jamican qualifying rounds. Interestingly most critics and haters had written him off basis this year’s Olympics but after watching the race it was very clear there is only one man who can dominate the 100m and his name is Usain Bolt. Bolt had a late start and stayed with the field till about 50m but post that he accelerated. It is impossible for a human being to do what he did and by the end of the last 50m Usain was the winner with the field trailing much like the last Olympics. Next on the horizon the 200m and the relays, I do believe with Powel and Blake at his side, the Jamican team will dominate and it will be an absolute joy to watch one of the greatest sprinters ever to grace the sport…..
Off the track, Usain Bolt is very laid-back and relaxed, like most Jamaicans. Bolt’s Jamaican track and field idols include Herb McKenley and former Jamaican 100m & 200m world record holder, Don Quarrie. The first sport to interest him was cricket and he said if he was not a sprinter he would be a fast bowler instead. As a child he was a supporter of the Pakistani cricket team and admired the bowling of Waqar Younis. During a charity cricket match, Bolt clean-bowled Chris Gayle. Gayle was complimentary of Bolt’s pace and swing. Bolt also struck a six off Chris Gayle’s bowling. All in all, Usain Bolt is a rockstar he has brought crowds back to the stadium and is 3 races shy of achieving God status in Track and Field Heaven.
Here are the crazy times set by these athletes across the years –
1. Usain Bolt – 9.69, Beijing 2008.
2. Donovan Bailey – 9.84, Atlanta 1996.
3. Ben Johnson – 9.79, Seoul 1988.
4. Justin Gatlin – 9.85, Athens 2004.
5. Maurice Greene – 9.87
6. Linford Christie – 9.96, Barcelona 1992.
7. Carl Lewis – 9.99, Los Angeles 1984.
8. Allan Wells – 10.25, Moscow 1980.