LONDON -- In the previous 27 Olympic men's 100-meter races, U.S. sprinters have won 16 gold medals, the names of the winners still familiar -- Jesse Owens, Bob Hayes, Carl Lewis and, more recently, Maurice Greene and Justin Gatlin.
That era of U.S. domination in the sprints ended with a thud -- or, more like it, a lightning bolt -- in 2008 in Beijing, where Jamaican sensation Usain Bolt took center stage and ran like a god and posed and danced like a teenager in winning the 100 and 200 in world-record times.
Bolt, 25 now, is back in the Olympics and the central attraction of a
track meet that starts Friday and should gear up to full speed with the
men's 100 heats Saturday and the semifinals and final Sunday night.
Bolt has come to London a more vulnerable
sprinter, having lost to his younger countryman, Yohan Blake, 22, in
both the 100 and 200 in the Jamaican Olympic trials.
he still comes in as the fastest man in the world, his world records in
the 2009 world championships - 9.58 in the 100, 19.19 in the 200 - ever
in the minds of his top Olympic competitors: Blake and fellow Jamaican
Asafa Powell, a former world recordholder, and U.S. challengers Tyson Gay, the second-fastest 100-meter runner in history, and 2004 Olympic champ
Gatlin, who is back after serving a four-year doping suspension. Gatlin trains in metro Atlanta.
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Some experts, including 2000 champ Greene, are picking Blake in the 100.
But Gay, who at 9.69 has run faster than anyone
except Bolt, makes an important point: "I don't really say (Bolt) is
vulnerable. He's the only guy that's been where we haven't been. And
he's the Olympic champion. He knows what it takes."
And Bolt says he knows what he wants here. He didn't come to London just to show he can still run fast, he says.
His goal at these Games?
"To be a legend," he says. "Everybody knows that."
men's 100 is but one of a series of individual races and sprint relays
that will pit Americans against Jamaicans in men's and women's events.
tend to focus on themselves and their individual races, but the
Americans and Jamaicans keep getting asked about the supposed running
rivalry between their nations, and to some extent they feel it.
"In 2008, the U.S. had a target on its back, and we took them down," says veteran Jamaican sprinter Michael Frater, who will run the 4x100m relay. "Now we have a target on our back."
In Beijing, Bolt dominated the men's sprints and Jamaican women won the 100 and 200 and actually won five of the six medals in those two events, the only exception being U.S. star Allyson Felix's silver in the 200.
The women's sprints in London could again come
down to Jamaica-USA showdowns, as U.S. reigning world champion Carmelita
Jeter in the 100 and Felix again in the 200 likely will face off with
Jamaicans in the finals. The women's 100 final is Saturday night. The
women's 200 final is Wednesday.
rivalries aside, the men's 100 is intriguing perhaps more for the
individual rivalry. Jamaica vs. Jamaica actually looks like the story in
the 100, with Blake appearing to be the fastest, fittest challenger to
"I think Blake has a better technical
race than everybody out there, so I pick him to win," says 2000 champ
Greene, who, it should be pointed out, is paid, like Blake, by Adidas.
5-11, powerfully built and nicknamed - by Bolt, his training partner -
"The Beast" because of his fondness for brutal training sessions, has
the fastest time this year, 9.75 seconds when he beat Bolt in the
Jamaican trials in late June.
Blake also beat
Bolt in the 200 meters in the trials, and he won the 100 meters in the
world championships last year when Bolt was disqualified for a false
Blake wore a T-shirt to a news conference this
week that read "Eat My Dust." But his conversations with the news media
are sprinkled liberally with bland clichés about staying focused and
doing his best. Posing and preening and dancing remain Bolt's style, not
Nor does he attempt to intimidate before the start.
"I don't need to scare the other runners," he says. "When I run, I scare them."
Bolt, whose 6-5 frame gives him an incomparable stride length, is
scared is, of course, difficult to say. Though he has looked shaky this
year on his starts, he has put up fast times - a 9.76 in May, a 9.79 in
Before the opening ceremony, Bolt said he had figured out the back and hamstring issues that bothered him this year and said he and his coach, Glen Mills, talked after the Jamaican trials about not stressing so much about his sluggish starts.
"It's all about execution and getting it right at the end of the race," Bolt says.
Gay, who raced with a hamstring injury in the 2008 Olympics and failed
to reach the final, the question again is about health and fitness.
He had hip surgery last year and didn't resume racing until June.
He ran fast in the U.S. trials - 9.86 to Gatlin's winning 9.80 - but he has been limping after races and workouts.
He's 29, and he wants an Olympic medal so bad.
"It's a missing piece in my heart," he says.
(David Leon Moore, USA TODAY)