August 28, 2011
Still fuming from his false start that knocked him from the 100-meter final, Usain Bolt crouched on the line and waited, then zipped off the blocks into the darkness of a deserted practice track.
There, not far from the main stadium, he didn't have to worry about jumping the gun.
Bolt missed out on the chance to defend his world title in the 100-meter dash Sunday when he jumped from the blocks early at the world championships. He was disqualified by a highly debated zero-tolerance false-start rule enacted last year.
"He's human, isn't he? I always knew he was human," said his coach, Glen Mills. "He will pick himself up. He's a champion."
Bolt knew instantly it was his error. Soon after the gun went off, soon after he took a few steps, another gun blasted. His eyes grew big. He pulled his shirt over his face, then ripped it off and whipped it around in his hand. Bolt grudgingly left the stage he has dominated since the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Another Jamaican won the title — Yohan Blake, a 21-year-old up-and-comer that former Olympics gold medalist Maurice Greene predicted to win. Blake finished in a modest 9.92 seconds, 16/100ths of a second ahead of American rival Walter Dix. Kim Collins of Saint Kitts and Nevis, the 2003 world champion and now a 35-year-old veteran, was third.
"Definitely, I wasn't focusing on beating Usain," Blake said. "I was just focusing on finishing in the top three."
Also Sunday, Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee sprinter, showed he indeed belongs on the same track with able-bodied athletes at big meets. Springing along on his carbon-fiber blades, he advanced to the semifinals of the 400 meters.
On the track, it was a big day for the Americans. Defending champion Trey Hardee and Ashton Eaton gave the U.S. its first 1-2 decathlon finish at worlds. Brittney Reese defended her long-jump title, and Allyson Felix breezed into the finals of the 400.
The sprints were setting up as strolls for Bolt, with Jamaican Asafa Powell (groin) and American Tyson Gay (hip) out with injuries. Bolt cruised through his first two rounds, but the false-start call wasn't close — Bolt is 6-foot-5, and it's clear when he stands up in the blocks too soon.
His night done, Bolt gathered his things, slung his backpack over his shoulder and headed down the tunnel leading out of the stadium. He wouldn't talk, glaring at anyone who got too close or tried to ask a question. He went through a fenced gate that leads to the warm-up track, typically off limits to all but the competitors.
After four 100-meter sprints and some jogging, Bolt had a cool-down and quick massage, then trudged across a grass field to catch a ride. Before he could reach the car, though, he was met by a few reporters.
"Looking for tears? Not going to happen," said Bolt, his agitation beginning to subside. "I'm OK."
Enough to run the 200 meters? "You'll see on Friday," he said, referring to the start date of that event.
Dix said: "I didn't really think they were going to kick him out. How can you kick Usain out of the race?"
The world championships are typically Bolt's stage, but he had company Sunday from Pistorius and Hardee. Other winners were Ibrahim Jeilan of Ethiopia (10,000), Valeriy Borchin of Russia (20-kilometer walk) and Li Yanfeng of China (discus).
Hardee and Reese defended world titles, and Eaton used a fast 1,500 in the final event of the decathlon to move into second place.
A smooth-running Felix had no trouble moving to the 400 final. She is chasing a double in the 200 and 400 and has been trying to conserve energy and not push the pace. Yet even when she's trying to hold back, she's difficult to beat.
Bolt used to be impossible to beat, also. But that was before he jumped the gun.