September 5, 2014
Justin Gatlin is not Usain Bolt, but he’s been closer to the Bolt of recent years than Bolt himself in 2014. While the real Bolt raced a total of one lap of the track in 2014 (two 4×100 legs at the Commonwealth Games, a 100 on the beach in Rio and an indoor 100 in Warsaw), Gatlin has raced a ton this year and assumed Bolt’s mantle as the most dominant sprinter on Earth.
Of course, Gatlin still hasn’t raced as much as he would have liked as he wasn’t invited to recent DL meets in Stockholm, Birmingham and Zurich. He made up for his absence on Friday in Brussels, completing the greatest single-day sprint double in history, winning by huge margins in both the 100 (9.77) and 200 (19.71).
He started with the 100, where he destroyed the best field of the year in a world-leading 9.77 seconds. Gatlin exploded from the blocks and it was clear the race was over halfway through. Gatlin proceeded to blow everyone away in the second half of the race, winning by .16 over runner-up Michael Rodgers. The performance was also good enough to give Gatlin the Diamond League title even though he missed four of the seven points races.
Usain Bolt said recently that he didn’t think he’d be able to beat Gatlin if Gatlin was in 9.8 shape. Well Gatlin was even better than that today with his 9.77. No one has run faster than that since Yohan Blake on August 30, 2012 (Bolt ran 9.77 when he won Worlds last year).
9.77 is a significant number for Gatlin. That was his time when he tied Asafa Powell’s world record back in 2006 before getting busted for doping. Now, eight years later — including four in which he didn’t compete at all — Gatlin has run the same time at age 32. Prior to today, Gatlin’s fastest time since returning from his doping ban was his 9.79 from the 2012 Olympic final (though he did run a wind-aided 9.76 at the Pre Classic this year).
You wouldn’t have known it because Gatlin destroyed everyone, but the race behind Gatlin was very quick as well, even though there wasn’t a huge wind (+0.6 m/s). Four men broke 10.00 in the same race for the first time in 2014. Additionally, seven men ran 10.01 or faster, which had only happened four times before (one was an Olympic final, one was a WC final).
Video of the 100:
|RANK||ATHLETE||NATION||RESULT||REACTION TIME||DIAMOND POINTS||DIAMOND RANKING|
One hour later, Gatlin came back to run the non-DL 200 against an entirely different field. The outcome was the same, as Gatlin built a huge lead off the turn and streaked away from the pack, running 19.71 to win by .44 seconds. It was the second-fastest time of the year, behind only Gatlin’s 19.68 from Monaco on July 18.
With the win, Gatlin finishes the season undefeated in the sprints (assuming Brussels is his last race of the year, as it was in 2013). He’s 18-for-18 overall (including one heat) and is the world leader in both the 100 and 200. Gatlin’s times aren’t quite on par with Bolt in 2008 or 2009, but he’s been nearly as dominant this year. If you don’t count this season (and we don’t since he ran two individual races against weak competition), Bolt has only gone undefeated in finals once in his career, in 2009, as mentioned in this MB thread. It should also be noted, though, that he didn’t lose a race he finished in 2011 but he was DQ’d in the 100 final at Worlds. In fact, Bolt’s 2011 season is a pretty good point of reference for how good Gatlin has been this year.
|Athlete||Finals||Wins||100 SB||200 SB|
|2011 Bolt||10||9 (1 DQ)||9.76||19.40|
Clearly Bolt’s times are faster, but he wasn’t the world leader in the 200 (Blake was), so you can argue that Gatlin has been more dominant than Bolt was three years ago, though Gatlin’s competition was definitely weaker. Bolt will still be the favorite at Worlds next year in Beijing, but he will have to be on his game if he is to defeat Gatlin.
Video of 200 for USA visitors:
Quick Thought #1: This was the greatest single-day sprint double in history.
According to the BBC, the previous best single-day 100/200 double was Ato Boldon’s 9.90/19.77 in Stuttgart on July 13, 1997 (combined time: 29.67). Gatlin ran faster in both events today and his 9.77/19.71 double adds up to a combined time of 29.48.
Quick Thought #2: Gatlin occupies a strange space in the sport right now.
He’s clearly the best runner in track and field’s marquee event, but he wasn’t invited to compete in three major races because of his history of doping. He’s running better than ever at age 32 — and again, he missed four years of competition because of his doping ban — but fans don’t know whether to be amazed or suspicious.