Feeling Like ‘The Other’

“I was running, and I was like, all right, I can shut it off now. I looked to my right first, to make sure no one’s catching. Then I remembered NJ saying, ‘Yo, remember [the Canadian sprinter] Andre de Grasse is a late surger.’” Bolt turned to his left to check De Grasse wasn’t catching him. “I saw that I had him covered, and I smiled. I was like, ‘Oh, I’m fine, I’m good, I’m good.’ So that’s why I smiled. But one of the pictures caught me looking straight down the lens of some camera. Then everyone’s like, ‘Yo Usain Bolt!’” (Decca Aitkenhead – The Guardian, 2016) 

Usain Bolt, widely considered to be the greatest sprinter of all time, explained his famous mid-race smile during the 100-meter semi-final in 2016 Rio Olympic Games via above words.

Indeed, short distance races have always been the most important and spectacular events in the Olympic Games since the ancient games. For Instance, the first Olympic champion – in 776 B.C. – was a cook named Coroebus who won the 192-meter race called the stade (the origin of the modern ‘stadium’).  In modern times, the 100-meter race was adopted as the foremost sprint, and their winners have been hailed as the fastest man on earth. In this regard, there’s only one sprinter who comes to mind when the world’s fastest man is called: Usain Bolt… 

By the age of 15, Bolt was 1.96 metres tall and – without a doubt – physically stood out among his peers in the 2002 World Junior Championships. In 2004, Bolt began to take notice of the world by winning his first World Championship medal and also becoming the first junior sprinter to complete the 200-meter in under 20 seconds.

Beijing 2008 was a historical Olympic Game that introduced a new icon, who would rewrite the history of athletics. Firstly, in the 100-meter final, Bolt broke new ground with 9.69 secs with a reaction time of 0.165 secs despite his early celebration. By the way, his performance was so extraordinary that it would even be subject of an academic study that aimed to measure its potentials.

Since that memorable day at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, a big question has been, “What would the 100m dash world record have been had Usain Bolt not celebrated at the end of his race?” Bolt’s coach suggested that the time could have been 9.52s or better. We consider this question by measuring Bolt’s position as a function of time using footage of the run, and then extrapolate the last 2s with two different assumptions. First, we conservatively assume that Bolt could have maintained the runner-up’s acceleration during the end of the race. Second, based on the race development prior to the celebration, we assume that Bolt could have kept an acceleration of 0.5m/s2 greater than the runner-up. We find that the new world record in these two cases would have been 9.61±0.04 and 9.55±0.04s, respectively, where the uncertainties denote 95% statistical errors. (Eriksen, H. K.; Kristiansen, J. R.; Langangen, Ø.; Wehus, I. K. (2009). “How fast could Usain Bolt have run? A dynamical study”)

But Bolt’s show wasn’t over yet. Following his jogs through the first and second rounds, he finally won 200-meter by setting a new world and Olympic record of 19.30 secs despite a 0.9 m/s headwind. He did not only attain his second gold medal but only emulated Carl Lewis’ double win in the 1984 Los Angeles.

In fact, the athletics world was going to see Bolt’s boundaries at the World Championships next year where he was faced with the toughest competition ever. He firstly set a new world record with a time of 9.58 secs to win his first World Championship gold medal while his rival Tyson Gay finished with a time of 9.71 secs, 0.02 secs behind Bolt’s world-record run in the previous year. Secondly, he showed an outstanding performance on the 200-meter final that is considered the greatest 200-meter event due to three other athletes running under 19.90 secs. While Bolt broke his own record by 0.11 secs and finishing with a time of 19.19 secs, he also won the race by the largest margin in World Championships history.

After all, ‘Lightning Bolt’ said goodbye to athletics after a 100-meter bronze medal at the 2017 World Championships. Considering his reign as Olympic Games champion in all of 100-meter, 200-meter and 4×100-meter relay at three consecutive Olympic Games as well as consecutive World Championship 100-meter, 200-meter and 4×100-meter relay gold medals from 2009 to 2015 – with the exception of a 100-meter false start in 2011 – he is widely considered to be the greatest sprinter of all time.

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