Like the elusive butterfly, Usain Bolt fluttered about the cosmic regions just beyond the reach of mere humanity. His fame and image took on such lofty levels after his utter demolition of two world records* – not once, but twice.
All along, Bolt had shunned his public deification, insisting he could be beaten, if only on a bad day.
But his followers would hear none of it, exalting him even higher – into aerie territory reserved for the likes of Jordan, Pele, Ali…
Ever the realist, Bolt again left a thin crack in the door, saying 2010 would be his rivals’ best chance at an upset. His primary focus would be on 2011 (World Championships) and 2012 (Olympics).
To American Tyson Gay, who wears the mantle of “world’s second-fastest human” like a dirty rag, the crack in Bolt’s door must have seemed like the gaping maw of paradise.
While several other elite stars of Track and Field have used the “off-year” of 2010 to rest and recover, Gay has been on a mission to reclaim his pre-2008 Olympic form, where he ruled the world of sprinting.
Yesterday’s DN Galan Diamond League meet in Stockholm, Sweden was to have been the first meeting of Bolt, Gay and Asafa Powell since their one-two-three finish in Berlin’s World Championships in 2009.
It was in that race where Bolt shocked the world with his 9.58 world record.
With Powell backing out of yesterday’s race because of lower back problems, it was left to Bolt and Gay to pierce the tension which had been building for a year.
At the starting line, the runners were ordered out of their blocks not once, but twice – due to crowd noise.
Finally, with a clean start, Gay exploded uncharacteristically well from the blocks and ran shoulder-to-shoulder with Bolt for 30 meters. Then Gay’s famous finishing drive kicked in and he crossed the line a full stride ahead of Bolt.
Taking nothing away from Gay’s impressive win, Bolt’s own famed afterburner failed to ignite and it was clear he was not 100% – or at least did not give 100%.
Both runners embraced briefly and reacted casually.
Tyson Gay’s winning time was 9.84. Bolt finished second in 9.97.
At least one more meeting of Bolt, Gay and Powell is scheduled this year – the final Diamond League meeting in Brussells on August 27.
There, at least two new revelations from Stockholm will frame the race:
Bolt will know that anything less than 100% will not be enough.
And Gay will know that the fleeting butterfly can be caught.
*Bolt’s world records:
photo credit: Maja Suslin/REUTERS