The men’s 100 meters. Perhaps THE marquee event of the Olympic Games. Most of the world will remember who won the 100 long after the Games are over. Jesse Owens, Jim Hines, Hasely Crawford, Valery Borzov, Carl Lewis, Donovan Bailey, Linford Christie, Maurice Greene. Names that resonate still long after retirement, because they won 100 meter gold at the Olympics.
Usain Bolt went from "who" to the face of the sport with his victory in Beijing, and would like to become the first man to repeat as champion. However, the fact that he would be the first to do so underscores just how difficult a task that is in light of the highly impressive list of champions that have come before.
You see the 100 is a very volatile race. One, from the standpoint of the race itself which requires a sprinter to ask the body to perform a highly ballistic activity while simultaneously relaxing – the dichotomy often resulting in injury. And two, from the standpoint of the rapid rise of competition. The combination of the two typically resulting in some athletes simply not being at their best when it comes time to defend and/or facing more strenuous challenges from a new crop of rising sprinters.
The above wreaking havoc not only on the repeat opportunities of many athletes, but also the match ups in the finals as many top competitors tend to either be missing or at less than their best. For my memory, in the last quarter century, only two races have achieved the feat of having the best line up in the Olympics. The 1988 final in Seoul brought not only the best to the starting line of the final healthy and ready to rumble, but the three fastest men in history in Ben Johnson, Carl Lewis, and Calvin Smith – and what an outstanding race it was.
The 2004 final in Athens was short on members of the "all time" list. The final did bring the best of the day to the track however, and by meet’s/year’s end the top five men in the race had made significant moves on the all time list – two of them will be back in London.
Which brings us to London and it’s potential to be like Seoul or Mexico City ’68 in terms of depth; members of the all time list; and hopefully excitement created by the actual final. I mean we start off with the four fastest men in history: Usain Bolt (9.58), Tyson Gay (9.69), Asafa Powell (9.72), and Yohan Blake (9.75). For good measure we can also throw in #8, Justin Gatlin (9.80). But that’s just the beginning. Gatlin was the ’04 Olympic champion & ’05 World champion; Blake the ’11 World champion; Gay the ’07 World champion; and Bolt the ’08 Olympic champion & ’09 World champion. Perhaps the largest collection of gold this side of Fort Knox. Aside from its potential monetary value however, what that gold haul tells us is that we have a field that should be at least half Alpha Males – four men that know how to win under pressure! Potentially making for the greatest sprint final in track and field history.
Potential. That means it could happen, but hasn’t yet. The question is, will it? Prior to the trials Tyson Gay was a question mark. Returning from off season hip surgery, he wasn’t scheduled to compete until the Trials having lost much of his off season training time to rehabilitation. A successful comeback race in New York at the last minute led to his runner up spot at the Trials. He’s been improving ever since.
In contrast Usain Bolt was having a good spring, on the clock. He opened with 9.82 in early May; dropped to 9.76 by the end of the month; followed with 9.79; then lost to teammate Blake amid injury rumors. Those rumors were further substantiated when he pulled out of Monaco – and now he heads to London as a questionable quantity.
Teammate Asafa Powell has a similar season history opening at 9.88 then dropping to 9.85 – though both races were losses. He then ran another 9.88 for third at Jamaica Trials, like Bolt amid injury rumor. And like Bolt, he withdrew from his pre Games meet in London stating groin issues. He too heads to London a questionable quantity.
Good health has been on the side of both Yohan Blake and Justin Gatlin. As a result, both men won their respective Olympic Trials in PR times: Blake in 9.75, Gatlin in 9.80. Blake heads to London undefeated over 100, while Gatlin, along with Bolt and Gay, has only one loss over the distance – Powell has four. Playing Ro Sham Bo, Bolt has lost to Blake; Gay has lost to Gatlin; Gatlin has lost to Gay; and Powell has lost to Bolt, Blake, and Gatlin.
Given all of the above, this race almost has to be the greatest race in history. There is the injury factor, as in exactly what condition Bolt and Powell are in. Personal bests aside this field is too deep for a sprinter to be even a little "off". There is also the spectre of the weather. Cold, rainy weather has dominated the London summer so far – with forecasts of the same during the Games. That’s a negative on two counts. One it could really hamper the times – a real downer given this field has the potential to produce something extraordinary. Think the ’91 World Championships in Tokyo. Of more concern is the impact cold, damp weather can have on anyone bringing an injury to the starting line. Finally there are the starters and the false start rule. We saw it’s impact last year as Bolt failed to start/finish the final and several others in the 100 and other events found themselves dq’d in various qualifying races in Daegu. It would be tragic if this race found itself with a dq, but it’s obviously possible. And do not underestimate the effect of the rule on the sprints. There is little chance of “catching a good one”, and a poor start in this final will be anathema!
So what does all of this add up to? I think the weather keeps us from WR territory – just too hard to run that fast in the cold/rain. It could exacerbate any Bolt/Powell injuries, especially if they involve muscles/joints. And I’m hoping that the starters use caution with the athletes, meaning they call them up at any sign that someone isn’t right in the blocks – that’ll save time for TV won’t it?
All that said we have at least three healthy stars, and two more that could be – and we can’t discount the potential of whomever makes this final. I think the officials do their job and they all get off the gun, and at least three will go 9.7, with two more at 9.8. That would give us the greatest mass finish in history; as well as a race that should match the Tokyo World Champs for pure excitement. The key to it all will be the start. How far ahead can Gatlin/Powell get in the first 30; and how close will Bolt/Gay/Blake be after the first 30. The run to the line from 60 to the finish will be shown by coaches to athletes for decades to come – because it’s going to be something to behold.
So yes, I do believe this race is going to live up to the hype – it just may not have the outcome that many feel is imminent.