By Zach Bigalke
Usain Bolt just won another 200m sprint, this time at the IAAF Paris Diamond League meet on the freshly-laid track in the Stade de France in Saint-Denis. He finished well off the 19.75 he had targeted, crossing the line in 20.03. It didn’t matter, because once again he was the first over the finish line.
He won in Rome in May, knocking off fellow Jamaican Asafa Powell with a 9.91. He won at 100m in Ostrava five days later, running a 9.91 to beat another countryman, Steve Mullings. He won at the Bislett Games in Oslo at 200m in June, clocking the fastest time of the year at 19.86. Regardless the situation, everyone knows that Bolt is the man to beat even when he is at less than a hundred percent.
Challengers have been touted in the recent past, but Bolt just keeps getting faster. He broke the world records at both 100m and 200m at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, stopping the clock at 9.69 and 19.30 seconds respectively. The knock at the time was that he let up to celebrate at the end, that he hadn’t reached his full speed potential.
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So he came out the next year to IAAF World Championships in Berlin and swept the field, breaking his own records further and lowering the marks to 9.58 and 19.19 seconds. They might just be marks that sit for a long time, moments of sublime running perfection…
But the beauty of the track is that, while you can race for the record books and immortality, the immediate challenge is right beside you in the other lanes. Everyone else has their rabbit to chase in Bolt, and signs are starting to show that the Jamaican — who will be 25 when this year’s Worlds start in Daegu, South Korea on August 27 — might have peaked in Germany two years ago.
He’s still the fastest man on the planet, but he’s also no longer the same athlete who became the fastest man in history. Injuries have taken their toll, the inevitable grind of the accumulated miles at speeds upward of 40 miles an hour accelerated sharply over short distances.
The man to watch, though, has been creeping up on the world-record holder’s heels throughout 2011 in hopes of peaking at the right time to overtake Bolt on the big stage. The European champion in both sprint distances last year at 20, Frenchman Christophe Lemaitre just came with 0.07 seconds of beating Bolt in the 200m in Paris today. He was third behind Bolt and Powell just nine-hundredths of a second off the pace in Rome in the 100m on May 26.
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In a world where we see race of little consequence in the meritocracy that is athletic competition, it is interesting to think that Lemaitre is the first white man to run less than ten seconds over 100 meters. The young Frenchman is still improving… and yes, he may never hit those world-record times and lower the bar that Bolt set two years ago.
But the fact is that Lemaitre — and everybody else on the track — don’t have to race against Bolt from two years ago anymore. They only have to race Bolt in the present, and we just might see a changing of the guard in Daegu courtesy of the European champion.