What next for Usain, the fastest man ever?

As Bolt cruises through the 200m heats, Simon Turnbull on what the world can expect now
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The Independent Online

The fastest man on the planet was back on the World Championship stage in the west end of the German capital yesterday. This time there was no lightning jolt on the blue Olympiastadion track. Down the 100m stretch on Sunday evening Usain Bolt had been out of this world as he touched a speed never before reached by an earthling, 28.58mph. "He performed like he was from out of space," Bruce Golding, the Prime Minister of Jamaica, ventured.

Yesterday, in the first-round heats of the 200m, the Jamaican spaceman was a little more restrained. Bolt looked like he was out for a Tuesday morning stroll as he eased his giant frame around the curve of the Berlin track and trotted to the formality of a victory. His time, 20.70sec, was nothing about which to write home to Trelawny Parish. It was much the same when it came to the second round at the start of the evening session. Bolt cantered home in 20.41sec.

It was nothing otherworldly, nothing off the scale. Or almost off it. Which is where the Lightning Bolt took the 100m world record on Sunday night. In improving his global mark from the 9.69sec he clocked slowing down at the Beijing Olympics to the 9.58sec that won him World Championship gold, Bolt produced a performance close to the very limit of anything considered a possibility by the body that runs his sport. The International Association of Athletics Federations have a set of scoring tables to evaluate times and distances achieved in the various disciplines in track and field.

On a points scale that stops at 1,400, Bolt's 9.58sec 100m run rates 1,374. In comparative terms, it stands as by far the greatest single athletics achievement of all time. It equates to a marathon run in 1hr 58min 15sec. The world record for the 26.2 mile event stands at 2hr 03min 58sec to Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia. It would also be matched by a 400m run of 42.09sec. Michael Johnson's 10-year-old world record is 43.18sec.

To produce a time of similar worth in the 200m here – the semi-final is tonight, the final tomorrow – Bolt would need to run a staggering 19.08sec. Last year in Beijing he ran flat out all of the way to clock 19.30sec and shave 0.02sec off a Johnson record that had stood since the Atlanta Olympics of 1996 and that was considered to be as untouchable as the women's 400m world record, 47.60sec, set in 1985 by Marita Koch with (as documents in Stasi files have shown) the assistance of the steroid-driven East German track and field machine.

All of the evidence points to Bolt closing in on the margins. By his own estimation – and this is a young man who thinks without barriers, whose mantra is "nothing is impossible" – he will struggle to eclipse his 19.30sec 200m record in Berlin. For one thing, the foot injury he suffered when overturning his BMW M3 in Jamaica on the eve of the track season has restricted his bend-running and his speed-endurance work in training. For another, he will not have Tyson Gay to push him, the American having withdrawn because of his lingering groin problem.

The chances are it will take a winter of speed endurance conditioning and some pressure from Gay before Bolt can make any inroads into his global 200m mark. But we shall see. One factor in favour of a fast time in Berlin is that Bolt happens to be a big occasion performer.

"I always want to please the crowd," he said. "As long as I go out and do my best, the time will come." But what sort of time might come in the 200m final? "You never know," Bolt replied. "I don't predict times. I just go out and do my best.

"I always keep saying anything is possible. That's why I told people 9.5 was possible, if the weather was good and the competition was good. Here the competition was good and the weather was good and you saw 9.5."

Well, we saw 9.58 on Sunday. Not quite at the end of the IAAF scale but close. The 100m limit, according to the governing body of track and field, is 9.52sec. That happens to be the time that Glen Mills, Bolt's coach, guessed his charge would have been capable of running in Beijing had he not taken his foot off the gas.

The difference in Berlin was that Bolt pushed himself all of the way. He ran the last 40m in 3.27sec. In Beijing his final 40m was 3.37sec. That meant there was only an improvement of 0.01sec in the first 60m. It came at the start.

Bolt's reaction time to the starting gun was 0.144sec. In Beijing it was 0.165sec. Still, it meant the Jamaican only got out of the blocks sixth of the eight finalists. In Zurich on Friday week Bolt will get his first chance to show something more like a lightning reaction out of the blocks. The world will be waiting to see if he can go off the planetary scale.

Improving perfection: How Bolt can go faster still

1. The start

"My starts are horrible," Bolt says. "It's hard for me to master the start because I'm so tall." His reaction time out of the blocks in the 100m has speeded up from 0.165sec in Beijing to 0.146sec in Berlin but room for improvement remains.

2. The bend

Bolt was unable to run round the bend in training for several weeks after injuring his left foot when he crashed his car in Jamaica in May. He only ran one 200m race before the World Championships. Far from ideal preparation for the longer event.

3. The finish

Bolt was 0.10sec quicker over the final 40m of his 100m final in Berlin in Sunday than he was in Beijing last summer. Having missed so much speed endurance work because of his foot injury, though, he may be slower in the latter stages of the 200m.

9.52 sec

The time the IAAF believe is the fastest the 100m can be run. Bolt's 9.58sec knocked 0.11sec off his own world record.

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