'Lightning' Bolt storms to record in 100 metres

The world 100 metres record was reduced to 9.72 seconds on Saturday night by an athlete who does not start properly, slows down before the finish and is not even supposed to be running the distance seriously. Who knows what Usain Bolt can do when he gets it all together?

After the 21-year-old Jamaican's startling display on a waterlogged track at New York's Randall Island, when his lanky, 6ft 5in frame moved inexorably clear of a field that included the US world champion Tyson Gay, that is the question now being considered by observers of international athletics.

"I always say the 200 metres is my favourite race. That's not going to change," said Bolt, whose performance in what was only his fifth serious 100m race makes him appear ominously capable of challenging the monumental world 200m record of 19.32sec set by Michael Johnson in winning the 1996 Olympic title.

Having beaten the 100m mark of 9.74sec set last September by his fellow countryman Asafa Powell, the quietly spoken student at Jamaica's University of Technology went so far as to say he was "pretty happy" with his achievement at a Reebok grand prix that was delayed for almost two hours because of storms. But he became more animated on the subject of the impending Beijing Games.

"This world record doesn't mean a thing unless I get the Olympic gold medal," he said. "Tomorrow if someone comes and runs faster than me, I'm no longer the fastest man in the world. If you're the Olympic champion, then they have to wait four more years to get you again. I think the Olympics is the biggest thing, and I'll be doubling in the 100 and 200 now, definitely."

For all the lightning that flared around the Icahn stadium, the time recorded by the man known as Lightning could hardly be regarded as a bolt from the blue given that he had set the second fastest time in history, 9.76sec, in Kingston on 3 May.

That performance indicated that he was about to start delivering seriously on the huge promise he had shown in winning two golds and a silver in the world junior championships aged 15, breaking 20 seconds for the 200m two years later and taking silver behind Gay in last year's world 200m final.

But even in the aftermath of his Kingston effort, Bolt's coach Glen Mills had maintained that his athlete was "a quarter-mile runner". If Mills had had his way, Bolt would have been running 400m races this season in preparation for his 200m challenge, with a view to moving up later in his career. Bolt, however, hates the longer distance, and Mills reluctantly agreed last season that he could run over 100m if he broke the Jamaican 200m record. Bolt duly did so, recording 19.75sec.

Mills has said Bolt is "never going to be a good starter" because of the difficulty of getting his tall body smoothly out of the blocks. That handicap is compounded by other bad habits. When he is running the 200m, Bolt still slows by looking over his shoulder – "Nobody stopped me when I was younger" – and he clearly failed to push to the line in his 9.76 run.

His race in New York, watched by hundreds of flag-waving Jamaicans, also saw him fail to obtain the maximum from his momentum and he crossed the line with arms outstretched before roaring round the bend as if he was running his favourite distance.

The fates had been with him. A poor start when the race got underway was annulled because another runner false-started. The following wind would also have been over the legally permissible level of two metres per second. Second time round, Bolt got away a bit better, and the wind gauge read plus-1.7mps.

Gay, 5ft 11in, lamented that he had run the same rhythm as Bolt, but that his opponent's stride pattern was bigger. "He was covering a lot more ground than I was," he added. Bolt looks set to have the kind of impact over two distances made by Cuba's Alberto Juantorena, similarly nicknamed White Lightning, who won the 400m and 800m at the 1976 Olympics.

Bolt's next planned outing is in Ostrava on 12 June, when he will run his favourite distance. Expect more lightning.

Fast lane: History of the 100m

10.6sec Donald Lippincott (US) 1912.

10.4 Charles Paddock (US) 1921.

10.3 Percy Williams (Can) 1930.

10.2 Jesse Owens (US) 1936.

10.1 Willie Williams (US) 1956

10.0 Armin Hary (W Ger) 1960.

9.95 Jim Hines (US) 1968.

9.93 Calvin Smith (US) 1983.

9.92 Carl Lewis (US) 1988.

9.90 Leroy Burrell (US) 1991.

9.86 Carl Lewis 1991.

9.85 Leroy Burrell 1994.

9.84 Donovan Bailey (Can) 1996.

9.79 Maurice Greene (US) 1999.

9.77 Asafa Powell (Jam) 2005.

9.74 Asafa Powell 2007.

9.72 Usain Bolt (Jam) 2008.

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