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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2021 Burton U.S. Open snowboarding event canceled

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The Burton U.S. Open, snowboarding’s most storied event, canceled its 2021 competition due to uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

“The truth is, we just can’t be sure it will be safe from a public health standpoint for us to host the event in 2021,” a statement read.

The U.S. Open, held since 1982, is usually around the first weekend in March, making it the season-ending event for many riders. Halfpipe champions include Shaun WhiteChloe KimKelly Clark and Ross Powers, who also earned Olympic gold medals.

Other 2020-21 winter sports events affected by the coronavirus pandemic include figure skating’s Junior Grand Prix. The first two stops of that eight-event series, scheduled for late August and early September in Canada and Slovakia, have been canceled.

The Italian Winter Sports Federation, which is due to put on the February 2021 World Alpine Skiing Championships in Cortina d’Ampezzo, made a formal request on Monday to postpone the event until March 2022, one month after the next Winter Olympics in Beijing. The International Ski Federation (FIS) council will decide July 1.

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Kara Eaker eschews fear, back on balance beam to resume Olympic quest

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Kara Eaker hasn’t qualified for an Olympics yet, but she is already part of a historic club of U.S. gymnasts. The list goes, most recently, Eaker, Simone BilesKyla RossAly RaismanNastia LiukinShawn JohnsonShannon Miller and Dominique Dawes.

Those are the women who qualified for back-to-back balance beam finals at the sport’s highest level: Olympics or world championships. For Eaker (pronounced like acre), they came in her first two years as a senior gymnast in 2018 and 2019 (Biles and Johnson are the only other U.S. women to do that in the last 25 years.)

This was supposed to be Eaker’s Olympic year, but the coronavirus pandemic postponed the Games to 2021, after her Missouri high school graduation. It also kept her out of the gym for nearly two months until the GAGE Center reopened last week in Blue Springs, near Kansas City.

It was the longest Eaker had been off a regulation beam (and out of the gym) since she could remember. She began competing at age 5.

Eaker’s mom, Katherine, said her daughter never feared the four-inch-wide beam, but Eaker said the thought of returning last week “was definitely kind of scary at first.” That is, until one of her coaches eased her back with basics and work on a floor beam, one that’s not raised as high as the four feet you see in competition.

“By the time we were ready, and she was comfortable putting us back up there, it wasn’t scary,” Eaker said. “It felt normal.”

Eaker, adopted from a Chinese orphanage around age 1 in 2003 (her parents’ travel then delayed by SARS), excels on the senior elite stage with a level of normalcy.

Which is not entirely normal in this sport. She lives with her family, 10 minutes from her world-class gym. She still attends regular high school. She’s committed to continue gymnastics at the University of Utah after the Tokyo Olympics.

“I started out in dance, actually,” said Eaker, whose hobbies include robotics and calligraphy. “A little, little girl with the stuffed animal, twirling around in the dance room. And then we had our little recital and I just wasn’t … I couldn’t do the standing in front of an audience kind of thing.”

Her mom believes it was around Christmas. Eaker was 3 or 4.

“She just froze like a deer in the headlights, and all the other girls froze, too, because they were used to following her,” Katherine said. “Then she tried gymnastics. We had to drag her out [of the gym]. From then on, it was always, she’s first one in, last one out. Still is.”

The family, including Eaker’s father, Mark, retired Navy and a flight engineer, and younger sister, Sara, moved three times within Missouri in part to get Kara closer to GAGE to pursue what would eventually become an Olympic dream.

Gymnastics meets were appointment TV before Eaker entered kindergarten. She watched the Beijing Olympics, or perhaps an even earlier meet, while dancing around the living room in a leotard. Sometimes she mimicked the gold medalists by doing back bends. She continued to watch Beijing highlights, with Liukin and Johnson, on replay on YouTube.

Back at the gym, Eaker developed with the help of her coaches, plus future University of Nebraska gymnast Catelyn Orel, her “gym mom” under the GAGE program to pair older and younger athletes. Orel was a state champion on beam. Eaker proved a natural, too.

“A lot of the girls would get up there and have trouble balancing, but she just always seemed to do it just like she was on the floor,” her mom said. “She’s never really had a fear. Some girls get up there and are nervous. She just never seemed to be that way.”

In 2018, Eaker was 15, old enough to start competing on the senior level with the likes of Biles. Exactly 10 years after she would have watched Johnson win the Beijing Olympic beam title, Eaker finished second on beam at nationals behind Biles. She was invited to the world championships team selection camp, where she had the top beam score and placed sixth in the all-around. Six gymnasts would be chosen by a committee to travel to the world championships.

Eaker didn’t expect to make the team. In a large meeting with coaches and staff, the roster was announced. Eaker made it as the youngest member.

“It was a goal, but there were so many other girls and it was my first year as a senior,” she said. “I was very happy and surprised to make that team.”

Eaker again won beam at the 2019 World Championships selection camp. If Eaker endured adversity those first two years, it came at worlds.

In 2018, she fell on her mount in the beam final. The rest of her routine was medal-worthy gymnastics. She waited an eternal three minutes for her score, which placed her sixth. Eaker’s routine from the team final earlier that week would have earned silver.

In 2019, Eaker again qualified for the eight-woman beam final. The U.S. federation submitted an inquiry on her qualifying score, contesting a lower start value given to her. That backfired. Judges lowered Eaker’s score even more upon review, which took her out of the final. However, another gymnast who had qualified later withdrew due to injury. Eaker was back in the final, where she placed fourth.

She was asked afterward what she would take away from the meet.

“Just the experience of it all,” she said, composed. “How it makes me feel. How to use that [in the future].”

In 2021, Eaker will have to prove to a selection committee that she can be reliable on all four apparatuses. The Olympic team event size is four — with three gymnasts going per apparatus in the Olympic final — down from five in 2016, putting a greater emphasis on the all-around. Eaker could also be a candidate for one separate spot in individual events only.

“I definitely want to be seen as a great beam worker, but I also need to be a great all-arounder because they’re going to be looking at not just your one event,” said Eaker, who was third in the all-around at the 2019 Worlds selection camp. “You have to be able to benefit the team with your other events, even if they aren’t as strong as your [best] one.”

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