By Mechelle Voepel, McClatchy Newspapers
BEIJING — Swimmer Michael Phelps might have the most gold medals at these Olympics. But nobody has or will put on a show here at the Summer Games quite like what sprinter Usain Bolt did Saturday night.
In a race that pretty much defied all attempts at superlatives, the Jamaican Jet took off into the stratosphere as he won the men’s 100-meter dash. Bolt, relaxing and even celebrating in his last seven strides, still broke his own world record. He ran 9.69 seconds in taking the gold in track’s marquee event.
Which left everyone wondering just what even-more astonishing time he might have posted if he’d run hard all the way to the finish. His previous world-best mark was 9.72, run on June 1.
“I wasn’t worried about the world record,” Bolt said. “I didn’t even know I got the world record until I finished my victory lap. My aim was to come here and be Olympic champion.”
Actually, he hopes to win the sprint double here, something no man has done at the Olympics since American Carl Lewis took the 100 and 200 golds at the 1984 Summer Games.
Bolt so outclassed the field in the final — which did not include U.S. Olympic trials champion Tyson Gay — that it seemed almost absurd. Finishing second was Trinidad and Tobago’s Richard Thompson in 9.89. American Walter Dix, who recently finished his college career at Florida State, took the bronze in 9.91.
Bolt, who at 6-foot-5 is the tallest man to win the Olympic 100, danced, posed with his golden spikes and carried the Jamaican flag around the Bird’s Nest track. On this night, he was without peer.
“I had a pretty good start, and I felt I was with Usain,” Thompson said, “but I saw him pulling away. He’s a phenomenal athlete, and I don’t think there’s any way anyone would have beaten him.”
Gay won the world championship last year and was hoping to become the third consecutive American to win the Olympic 100 title. Maurice Greene was the 2000 champion and Justin Gatlin won in 2004.
But any thoughts that this Olympic 100 might be a showdown between Gay and Bolt were questionable after Bolt ran so well in the first two rounds Friday. He had even more in the tank Saturday, but Gay did not.
Gay, who was injured during qualifying at the U.S. Olympic trials in the 200 and didn’t make the team in that event, had high hopes for the 100 here. But he didn’t advance out of the semifinals.
“It was kind of devastating,” Gay said. “I may have needed more races, but I don’t really have any excuses. I just didn’t make it. My hamstring feels good; it’s not bothering me. I wasn’t too overwhelmed with it being the Olympics. It just was one of those things that happened.”
Gay acknowledged that his injury at the trials did alter his preparation timetable.
“When you race in the Olympics and the trials, you peak your body two times,” he said “I was prepared to peak my body twice, but the injury set me back three or four weeks. I think my mechanics weren’t where I wanted them to be. I think I just ran out of time.
“I’m pretty upset. When I get back to the village, it’s really probably going to set in. My family is here; everyone at home is supporting me, and I just feel I let them down a little bit.”
Bolt said he was anticipating having to face Gay in the final.
“I’ve been telling Tyson all season when I saw him I’m really looking forward to competing with him,” Bolt said. “If you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best.”
In this Olympic final, though, Bolt proved he was the best by far.
“This means a lot to my country. It means a lot to me,” said Bolt, who at one point was unsure if he would try to double here. “I’ve been working hard leading up to the Olympics. I’ve shown that I can do both, so my coach decided, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’”
There may be yet another mind-bending race from Bolt coming up.