Is Bolt the greatest sprinter of all time?
Churandy Martina of The Netherlands, US' Ryan Bailey, Jamaica's Usain Bolt, US' Justin Gatlin, Jamaica's Yohan Blake, US' Tyson Gay, Jamaica's Asafa Powell and Trinidad and Tobago's Richard Thompson take the start of the men's 100m final at the athletics event during the London 2012 Olympic Games on August 5, 2012 in London. AFP PHOTO / FRANCISCO LEONG
The most anticipated event of any Olympic games lived up to expectations, but does this make Usain Bolt the greatest male sprinter of all time?
Winning his second 100m title in an Olympic record 9.63s, Bolt became only the second man to defend the 100m title after Carl Lewis (although Lewis was famously beaten on the track by the infamous Ben Johnson).
Lewis is widely recognised as the greatest athlete of all time, but I think Bolt has a strong claim on the title of greatest sprinter.
If Bolt can back up in the 200m – and if he’s in 9.63 shape you’d be brave to bet against him – he will be the only man to claim the 100m/200m double in two Olympics.
Bolt is now the world record holder in the 100 and 200 metres, a four-time Olympic gold medallist, and five-time world champion. His world records have carved tenths of a second off the previous marks, in a sport where shaving 0.01 used to require years.
He is the only man to have set world records in three track events at one Olympics (the 100m, 200m and 4x100m in Beijing).
I was privileged to be in the stadium in Berlin when Bolt ran 9.58s, and again a few days later when he ran 19.19 in the 200m. Against some of the fastest men in history, who have lifted their games to compete with him, his dominance was total.
He has dragged his rivals with him – this Olympic final was the first to feature seven athletes running under 10 seconds, and if the unfortunate Asafa Powell hadn’t pulled up injured it was almost certain that the whole field would have cracked the mark.
This was the strongest 100m final ever run, and Bolt destroyed it.
How does his record compare to Carl Lewis?
Lewis, widely considered to be the greatest Olympian of all time, won nine Olympic gold medals spread across four Olympics, including the 100m/200m/4x100m sprint triple in 1984, and the long jump gold.
In 1988 he won a retrospective gold in ‘that’ 100m, silver in the 200m, and gold in the long jump. His gold medals in 1992 were in the relay and the long jump, and in the long jump alone in 1996.
So Lewis has a handy lead on Bolt in total medals won, but four of those gold medals were in the long jump – this arguably makes him a better all-around athlete, but it doesn’t necessarily add to his claim as the best sprinter. That gives him a career total of five sprint gold medals, and one silver.
Bolt has now won four Olympic gold medals in the sprints, compared to Lewis’ five. A 200m victory would see him draw level, and a relay win would see him pass Lewis on gold medals won.
The injury to Asafa Powell will certainly not help Jamaica’s chances in the relay, but with the two fastest men in the world (Bolt and Blake) and probably Nesta Carter and Michael Frater to join them, it’s going to be a magnificent battle with the American squad, with the Jamaicans probably a slight favourite.
If that scenario plays out, Bolt will have six gold medals and all three sprint world records from two Olympics. At the age of 25, Bolt probably has another Olympics in him.
Ultimately though, comparing the best times of these two master sprinters, it’s difficult to argue that Lewis can compare.
Lewis’ best times were 9.86 and 19.75. Bolt’s are 9.58 and 19.19. The differences are stark.
Tim Renowden has been following professional cycling closely since Indurain won his first Tour. A former A-grade club athlete, and now a keen recreational cyclist and roller racer, he once rode very slowly up Mont Ventoux. Tim tweets about sport at @timehhh_sp.
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- 2012 London Olympics