Ato Boldon remembers Usain Bolt’s first world record on 10th anniversary

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An hour before going on the air for the 2008 Reebok Grand Prix, Ato Boldon heard from a trusted Jamaican. Listen, the friend said, I was in the stadium when Usain Bolt ran a 100m at a small meet in Kingston four weeks earlier and clocked 9.76 seconds, then the second-fastest time in history in his third career 100m race.

“You guys are going to get a shock tonight,” Boldon remembered the friend saying.

About 45 minutes before midnight, after nearly two hours of rainstorm delays, Bolt broke the 100m world record for the first time on Randalls Island between Manhattan and Queens. 9.72 seconds.

Boldon, calling the meet for CBS, would not have expected it at dawn that Saturday. Bolt was already promising and decorated, but in the 200m as a world junior champion in 2002 and senior world silver medalist in 2007. Bolt’s coach preferred the 400m as his complementary event.

All that made Boldon skeptical of the 9.76 from the Jamaica Invitational on May 3.

“Wait a minute, his [third] race was a 9.76? Eh, I don’t know about that,” Boldon recalled Thursday. “Maybe the wind gauge blew over [with too much tailwind for legal times], or the track was short.”

Neither, Boldon’s friend assured him. Bolt broke the 100m world record for the first of three times that night — followed by his 9.69 two months later at the Beijing Olympics and 9.58 at the 2009 World Championships.

“It’s not like now where if a world record gets broken, everyone sees it immediately,” Boldon said. “So this was his coming out in just track and field. But to the world, he didn’t arrive until Beijing.”

Of the reported 5,000 or 6,000 people at Icahn Stadium that evening, a man who sticks out is Carter Blackburn. He sat with Boldon and called a track and field meet for the first time in his TV career (Boldon said Blackburn hasn’t called a meet since, either).

“Carter Blackburn foreshadowed it,” Boldon said. “When the gun goes off, he says, ‘Finally, a clean start. Will it be historic?’ Despite the fact it was his very first track and field meet, he actually had an inkling that something special was about 80 meters away.”

The meet was billed as a head-to-head between Bolt and Tyson Gay, the American who swept the 100m, 200m and 4x100m at the 2007 Worlds to become the Olympic sprint favorite. Bolt might not have even been regarded as the fastest Jamaican. Asafa Powell, who would pass by Bolt’s house on the way to train every day, had the world record of 9.74 seconds.

Bolt’s first world record may go down as his most unique. It’s the only one that he didn’t set at an Olympics or world championships. It came in the world’s biggest city, but not in the spotlight — 11:15 at night after rain drove away spectators. Except for the boisterous Jamaicans.

“They were there to see Bolt,” Boldon said. “While waiting for the race, there was a singing contest. It almost become a Jamaican national rally. By the time the race went off, they were ready to explode.”

Miss Jamaica even interviewed sprinters while wearing her sash, according to The New York Times. A post-meet reggae concert had been scheduled, according to The Associated Press.

Bolt’s excitement was evident, too, after reportedly spending the entire day sleeping peacefully in his hotel room. He pointed toward the stands as he crossed the finish line and didn’t stop for another 200 meters around the curve.

“I wasn’t really looking for the world record,” Bolt said that night, “but it was there for the taking. I knew after 50 meters the race was over.”

Bolt’s coach, Glen Mills, was hesitant for Bolt to race the 100m at the Olympics, worried that it could affect his chances of winning the 200m. But Bolt had earned the chance to try, starting with a deal between he and Mills, by breaking the Jamaican 200m record in 2007.

“The Olympics are the big thing for me,” Bolt said in New York. “It doesn’t matter if I have the world record, if I don’t have the Olympic medal”

Boldon predicted after that race that “there was no question” Bolt would break into the 9.6s.

“We look like junior high kids out there compared to the man,” U.S. sprinter Doc Patton said that night, according to Sports Illustrated. “What an impressive athlete. Twenty-one years old, six-foot-five. Sky’s the limit, man.”

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World champion wins doping case citing bodily fluids from boyfriend

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — A world champion canoeist won a doping case Monday after persuading a tribunal that her positive test was caused by bodily fluid contamination from her boyfriend.

The International Canoe Federation (ICF) ended its investigation into 11-time world champion Laurence Vincent Lapointe, who tested positive for a steroid-like substance in July. She faced a four-year ban and could have missed her event’s Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games.

The Canadian canoe sprint racer and her lawyer detailed in a news program that laboratory analysis of hair from her then-boyfriend showed he was likely responsible for a tiny presence of ligandrol in her doping sample.

“The ICF has accepted Ms. Vincent Lapointe’s evidence which supports that she was the victim of third-party contamination,” the governing body said in a statement, clearing her to return to competition.

The legal debate is similar to tennis player Richard Gasquet’s 2009 acquittal in the “cocaine kiss” case. The Court of Arbitration for Sport accepted Gasquet’s defense that kissing a woman who had taken cocaine in a Miami nightclub, after he had withdrawn injured from a tournament, caused his positive test.

The 27-year-old Vincent Lapointe was provisionally suspended for almost six months and missed the 2019 World Championships, which was a key qualifying event for the Tokyo Olympics. American 17-year-old Nevin Harrison won the 200m world title in her absence.

She can still qualify for the Olympic debut of women’s canoe sprint events with victory at a World Cup event in May in Germany.

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U.S. women’s soccer team begins Olympic qualifying, which should rest on one match

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The U.S. women’s soccer team has never been in danger in Olympic qualifying, but that doesn’t change this fact: It must win on Feb. 7 to reach the Tokyo Games.

The CONCACAF tournament begins Tuesday in Houston, where the world champion Americans face world No. 72 Haiti. The last two group games are against No. 68 Panama on Friday and No. 37 Costa Rica on Feb. 3. The top two nations from the group advance to Feb. 7 semifinals.

The U.S. roster, with 18 of its 20 players coming from the 2019 World Cup team, is here.

Since CONCACAF qualifies two nations to the Olympics, the semifinals are the deciding games.

Should the U.S. win its group, it would face the runner-up from the other group in a winner-goes-to-Tokyo match. The other group (world ranking):

Canada (8)
Mexico (37)
Jamaica (53)
St. Kitts and Nevis (127)

Chaos could result in the unlikely event that either the U.S. or Canada finishes second in its group, and the two North American powers play a semifinal.

The U.S. is undefeated in Olympic qualifying history, since the tournament format began in 2004 — 15-0 with a goal differential of 88-1 (not counting matches played once they’ve already clinched qualification). The lone goal allowed came in a group-stage match in 2008, when the U.S. was already assured a spot in the semifinals.

Still, the U.S. knows the feeling of one poor outing in an important match. In 2010, it lost to Mexico in a winner-to-the-World Cup match. The U.S. was forced to win a last-chance, home-and-home playoff against a UEFA team — Italy — for the last spot in the World Cup.

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