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

Leave a comment

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.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Bolt continues foray into soccer with new club

At U.S. Open swim meet, teens make a splash with Olympic trials on horizon

Getty Images
Leave a comment

While Olympic and world champions Katie LedeckySimone Manuel and Chase Kalisz notched expected victories at the U.S. Open on Thursday, a trio of teenagers lowered personal bests to further establish their Tokyo Olympic hopes.

At the top domestic meet of the winter, Alex WalshCarson Foster and Kieran Smith each earned runner-up finishes, but their performances stood out in the big picture: looking at June’s Olympic trials, where the top two per individual event make the team.

Walsh, a rising Nashville high school senior, took 2.23 seconds off her 200m individual medley best. She clocked 2:09.01, overtaken by .17 by Melanie Margalis, the Rio Olympic and 2019 World Championships fourth-place finisher.

Full meet results are here.

Walsh moved from fifth-fastest in the U.S. this year to No. 2 behind Margalis, passing Olympic and world championships veterans Ella EastinKathleen Baker and Madisyn Cox. Of those swimmers, only Eastin was also in Thursday’s final.

Walsh joined her younger sister, Gretchen, in Olympic qualifying position based on 2019 times. Gretchen, 16, ranks fourth in the U.S. in the 100m free this year. The top six in that event at trials are in line to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool.

The Walshes could become the third set of sisters to make the same U.S. Olympic swim team, and the second to do it in pool swimming after Dana and Tara Kirk in 2004.

Foster, 18, continued his ascent Thursday in taking second to Kalisz in the men’s 200m IM. The world junior champion lowered his personal best in the prelims and the final, getting down to 1:57.59. Foster passed Ryan Lochte, who is nearly twice his age, in Thursday’s final and in the 2019 U.S. rankings. Only Kalisz and Michael Andrew have been faster among Americans this year.

Foster is trying to become the youngest U.S. Olympic male swimmer since 2000, when a 15-year-old Michael Phelps made his Olympic debut. Foster, who has been breaking Phelps national age-group records since he was 10, committed to the University of Texas in March 2018, two years before he graduates high school in Ohio.

Then there’s Kieran Smith, now a prime candidate to fill a huge void in the 400m freestyle. Zane Grothe is the only American ranked in the top 20 in the world this year.

Smith, a 19-year-old from the University of Florida, took 2.29 seconds off his lifetime best on Thursday to jump from outside the top 10 to No. 2 in the U.S. on the year. Smith was already ranked No. 2 in the country in the 200m free.

Two more runners-up in the 50m freestyles — Erika Brown to Manuel and Zach Apple to Brazilian Bruno Fratus — lowered personal bests to move to No. 3 in each U.S. ranking list this year.

The U.S. Open continues Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. ET with live coverage on NBCSN and streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Dressel recalls summer tears in Golden Goggles speech

Nathan Chen distances Yuzuru Hanyu in Grand Prix Final short program

Leave a comment

A brilliant Nathan Chen outscored a flawed Yuzuru Hanyu for a fourth straight head-to-head program, taking a 12.95-point lead at the Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy, on Thursday.

Chen, the two-time reigning world champion, tallied 110.38 points going into Saturday’s free skate. He landed a quadruple Lutz, triple Axel and quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination.

It’s the highest short program score in the world this season, leading the American to say “wow” in the kiss-and-cry area. His coach, the often-gruff Rafael Arutyunyan, banged his knee against his pupil’s.

Hanyu, the two-time reigning Olympic champion, hit a quadruple Salchow and triple Axel but then stepped out of a quad toe landing. He therefore failed to include a required jumping combination and ended up in second place.

“I wanted to do a great performance and do a good competition against [Chen], but that didn’t happen this time,” Hanyu, who was without longtime coach Brian Orser, or any other coach, said through a translator. Hanyu said Orser was busy last week, so he chose to use his lone accreditation on another coach who had travel delays.

Hanyu is not out of title contention. His world-leading free skate score this season is 16.61 points better than Chen’s best free skate from the fall Grand Prix Series.

Chen is undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, but this is just his second head-to-head with Hanyu in that span. Chen defeated Hanyu at March’s world championships, where the Japanese megastar was likely affected by an ankle injury.

After Thursday’s program, Chen repeated what he said before the competition: he still feels like he’s chasing Hanyu.

“Yuzu is like the goat, he’s the greatest of all time, really,” Chen said. “So, to have this opportunity to be able to share the ice with a guy like that, someone that I’ve looked up to for a long time, someone that I’ve watched grow up through the junior ranks when I was like a baby, it’s really cool to be able see him now. It’s really cool to even just be able to see him person.”

The Grand Prix Final, the biggest annual event outside the world championships, continues Friday with the rhythm dance, women’s short and pairs’ free skate. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

Earlier in pairs, Chinese Sui Wenjing and Han Cong took their first step toward a first Grand Prix Final title. The Olympic silver medalists tallied 77.50, leading Russians Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitriy Kozlovskiy by .85 going into Friday’s free skate.

Sui and Han were imperfect, with Sui putting her hand down on a throw triple flip landing. They are undefeated in this Beijing Olympic cycle and own the world’s top total score this season.

The U.S. failed to qualify a pair for the six-team Final for the 11th time in the last 12 years.

Grand Prix Final
Men’s Short Program
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 110.38
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 97.43
3. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 96.71
4. Dmitriy Aliyev (RUS) — 88.78
5. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 81.32
6. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 80.67

Pairs’ Short Program
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 77.50
2. Aleksandra Boikova / Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 76.65
3. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 75.16
4. Anastasia Mishina/Aleksandr Galliamov (RUS) — 71.48
5. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 69.67
6. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 67.08

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Alysa Liu, with help from Olympic medalist, challenges top Russians