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Track And Field
Cross In Fourth
Hubert Lawrence, Gleaner Writer
Even as the Games of the 30th Olympiad roll on, one fact keeps popping up in my mind. It was drowned at first by the overall brilliance of the men's 100-metre final, but as the paint dries on another Usain Bolt masterpiece, a question keeps coming back: how could a man clock 9.80 seconds and finish fourth?
First, look to Bolt himself. For him to run 9.63 seconds in chilly London at the climax of a championship is staggering enough. Though he doesn't show it, he must have been under immense pressure.
His rivals had come to run. For all his troubles, Asafa Powell churned out his 79th sub-10 100-metre dash in the semi-final. In an unprecedented show of speed, everyone else in the final broke 10 seconds.
It used to be a barrier. Now it's just a bus stop. Jim Hines of the United States broke it for the first time to win the gold medal at the 1968 Olympics. Since then, the world has seen almost 600 sub-10s.
Jamaica has been a generous contributor to this fund. Aside from Powell, Bolt has made 31 donations, including three world records. Between them, they have 110 sub-10s.
Jamaica's gross sub-10 product is approaching 160.
In London, 2004 Olympic winner Justin Gatlin lowered his personal best to 9.79 seconds in third. That would have been a world record equalling run until 2005 when Powell took the record to Jamaica for the first time.
World champion Yohan Blake once again ran 9.75 to prove that he is real. With it, he took a well-deserved Olympic silver medal.
Tyson Gay ran superbly, but returns home empty-handed. On the plus side, his time of 9.80 seconds would have won almost every major championship race in history.
Carl Lewis set a world record of 9.86 seconds to win the 1991 World Championships. In that race, six men broke 10 seconds, and Linford Christie for Great Britain was unlucky to miss the bronze by 0.01 with his big run of 9.92.
Christie had his day, twice. He was Olympic champion the following year. At the 1993 World Championships, he blitzed the gold-medal run in 9.87 seconds.
In 1996, Canada's Donovan Bailey blasted to a world record of 9.84 seconds to join Hines and Bob Hayes, the 1964 champ, as men to win Olympic gold in world-record time.
Maurice Greene won three World titles and Olympic gold in 2000, but his world record came in 1999 at 9.79 on the Grand Prix circuit. Perhaps, and we can only guess that his third World title win, in Edmonton in 2001, might have put him under 9.80 had he not pulled a leg muscle on the way to victory.
There'll be time enough to analyse the effect of the London chill and the assisting wind of 1.5 metres per second, but the raw data is compelling. Simply put, this was the fastest 100-metre mass finish in history.
You can put your hand around Gay's shoulder and tell him he did his best. 9.80 is faster than he ran to win the 2007 World Championships. For him to have come back from hip surgery to run that fast must be some kind of record.
Most people who have hip surgery are thankful just to be able to move about.
Recite Baron Pierre de Coubertin to him. "It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game," said the founder of the modern Olympic Movement.
Say the same thing to Kenesia Bekele, the Ethiopian running legend, Cuban discus ace Yargelis Barrios, and star-crossed hurdler Lolo Jones, while you're at it.
Spare a thought for Brigitte Foster-Hylton and Liu Xiang. Their heartbreaking falls denied them a chance even at fourth place.
The baron was right. Winning isn't the only thing. There is great value to playing the game well. Just don't say that right now to Gay and the others stuck in fourth. They are probably cross, angry and miserable.
Hubert Lawrence is in London.