July 24, 2015
Don’t hand the gold medal to Justin Gatlin just yet.
Usain Bolt put together his best showing of 2015 by far on Friday night in London, running 9.87 into a headwind twice within the span of an hour to win at the Sainsbury’s Anniversary Games. The conditions (mid-50s, rainy) were far from ideal for sprinting, but Bolt still managed to produce his fastest 100-meter efforts since the 9.80 he ran in his final race of 2013 in Brussels. Of the two races, his preliminary heat was the more impressive, as Bolt overcame a slow start to run 9.87 into a 1.2 m/s headwind despite shutting it down over the final 10 meters. The six-time Olympic champion had to strain more in the final, as he again started very poorly and had to run hard all the way through the line to win in 9.87 (0.8 m/s headwind) over American Mike Rodgers (9.90). Bolt wasn’t happy with his race in the final as the post-race replays showed a frustrated expression on his face after crossing the finish line.
Though his time tonight was still .13 of a second off of Gatlin’s world leader in Doha on May 15, this was clearly a step in the right direction for Bolt, who ran 10.12 (-1.3 m/s) in his only other 100 of the year in Rio on April 19.
Bolt hadn’t raced since the adidas Grand Prix in New York on June 13, after which he went to Germany to receive treatment from doctor Hans-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt for the pelvic injury that caused him to miss the Jamaican Championships and Diamond League events in Paris and Lausanne.
“I think overall it was a good run,” Bolt said to the BBC, speaking about his performance in the final. “But as I said, my start was really poor. My coach keeps telling me just relax and let it flow. But I really wanted to run faster so I think it kind of threw me off a little bit. But it’s getting there, so that’s a good thing.”
On his prelim, Bolt said: “It was really smooth, I had a good start. Overall it was pretty smooth. I was happy with what I did. But as I said, finals I just got a really bad start and it just went downhill from there.”
As for what he has to do to win gold in Beijing, Bolt said, “It’s just hard work. It’s all about hard work and dedication. Just keep pushing myself, keep working hard and wishing for the best. All I’ve gotta do is keep working. I’m feeling pretty good. As you can tell, if I just keep continue working on my start, it will be fine.”
Bolt didn’t rule out racing again before Worlds (there is no 100 at next week’s DL meet in Stockholm, the final one before Worlds) but said that will be up to his coach to determine.
Video of the final, followed by results and analysis below.
Heat 1, Wind: -0.3
Heat 2, Wind: -1.2
Final, Wind: -0.8
Quick Thought #1: Bolt is not yet on Gatlin’s level…
While Bolt’s performance tonight was the best we’ve seen from him in almost two years, it’s still not as impressive as the four Diamond League 100s Gatlin has run in 2015.
Justin Gatlin’s DL 100s in 2015
|Date||Location||Time||Margin of victory||Wind|
There’s no other way to put it: Gatlin has destroyed his competition this year. For comparison’s sake, Rodgers was in three of those races, finishing .22 of a second behind Gatlin in Doha, .23 behind in Rome and .28 behind in Lausanne. He was only .03 behind Bolt tonight in London.
Similarly, if we look at common opponents between Gatlin and Bolt from Lausanne and Monaco, Gatlin beat Kim Collins by .33 in Lausanne (Bolt beat him by .22 tonight), Gatlin beat Jimmy Vicaut by .25 in Monaco (Bolt beat him by .11) and Gatlin beat Chijundu Ujah by .30 in Monaco (Bolt beat him by .19). If Gatlin raced Bolt tonight, he would have beaten him. (Sidenote: It’s ridiculous that the two fastest athletes in track and field’s marquee event haven’t raced each other head to head in almost two years. We’re not counting World Relays, where the two weren’t even on the same leg of the 4×100).
Quick Thought #2: … but he could be 30 days from now by Worlds
The question isn’t could Bolt have beaten Gatlin tonight; it’s can he do it by Worlds? And there is evidence to suggest that it is possible. Previously, anyone arguing Bolt would win Worlds this year had to rely on history: he is the greatest sprinter of all time and hasn’t been defeated in any race (aside from a DQ in the 100 at Worlds in 2011) in a Worlds/Olympics since 2007. Now we can look at hard facts from Bolt’s races tonight and present an argument as to how he could beat Gatlin.
Point #1: Weather
Not all 100s are created equal. While the London track is undeniably fast, the weather tonight was rainy and in the mid-50s with a headwind. That’s much harder to sprint in than the weather Gatlin had in Doha for his world leader: hot and dry with a tailwind.
We can’t create a perfect conversion, but we can correct for wind using this calculator. If we put in the times and winds for Gatlins 100s this year, we get this:
Bolt’s best performance tonight (9.87 in the prelims with a -1.2 wind) converts to a 9.80 — just .04 off Gatlin’s best. And that’s not even taking into account the rain, cool temperatures or the fact that Bolt wasn’t going all-out at the end of the race.
Point #2: The start
Bolt’s start has never been the strongest part of his race, but it was downright awful tonight, especially in the final, where he had to dig himself out of a big hole. The good news is Bolt will be able to work on that start if he’s healthy enough to put together four weeks of uninterrupted training between now and Beijing. Four weeks isn’t enough to turn a poor start into a great one, but at the very least he should be able to improve on what he showed in London tonight.
Point #3: History
Two years ago, Bolt ran 9.85 (+0.2 wind) on this track in better conditions and followed it up by running 9.77 (-0.3 wind) to win Worlds 16 days later. Bolt’s 9.87 tonight was arguably a more impressive performance (though he did win by .13 two years ago and only .03 tonight) and he’s got an extra two weeks to prepare for Worlds as opposed to two years ago. The difference is, Justin Gatlin is significantly better than he was in 2013. Gatlin’s fastest 100 that year was 9.85, run in the final at Worlds. His best before Worlds was 9.89. In 2015, Gatlin has already run 9.75 or faster three times.
Quick Thought #3: Nothing is really settled until Worlds
We can throw numbers at you all day but we won’t know anything for sure until the night of August 23, the 100-meter final at Worlds. This was already going to be the most-anticipated race of the championship, but if Bolt had run in the high 9.90s or got beaten tonight, the 100 in Beijing would have lost some of its luster. Bolt may have considered not running, and even if he did run, few people would have expected him to challenge Gatlin.
That’s not the case anymore. Both Gatlin and Bolt are capable of more than what they’ve shown so far this season, but we won’t know exactly how much more until they face each other head to head. And that’s exactly how you want it heading into the marquee event of a global championship. We can’t wait.