‘9.58 - Not a joke time!’ - He had the best seat in the house, now Daniel Bailey relives Bolt’s 100m WR run
From the moment Usain Bolt raised his hands in exultation in the 2008 Olympic 100-metre final, the world sought to answer one question: how fast would he go if he sprinted hard all the way?
In that race, the clock stopped at 9.68 seconds and then settled on 9.69. The answer came a year later.
When the tall Jamaican blitzed the world record down to 9.58 seconds 12 months later at the World Championships in Berlin’s fabled Olympic Stadium, most people were stunned, but not Bolt’s friend, training partner and rival Daniel Bailey, who started the race right beside Bolt (lane 4) in lane 3.
“To be honest with you, I knew he was going to break the world record,” said Bailey, 10 years later in August 2019. “So, when it happened, I wasn’t really surprised.”
Bolt and Bailey, a rare sprint hero from Antigua and Barbuda, had been racing for years before they became teammates at the Racers Track Club in Kingston, Jamaica, in 2007.
“I knew he was going to”, Bailey said from his home in Antigua,“but I didn’t know by so much.”
There was a buzz of excitement surrounding the 100m, even in the heats. The two-time World Championship finalist had seen Bolt’s start sharpen. However, worry may have crept in after a false start in the semi. Under today’s zero-tolerance rules, Bolt would have been eliminated. Fortunately, the regulations in force at that time gave him a reprieve.
Bolt had kept pace with Bailey’s rocket start in the quarter-finals and semi-finals, and his training partner sought to reassure him as they prepared for the final.
“I said to him, ‘don’t worry about them things, man, everything good, you only need an average start and you’ll be alright,’ Bailey recounted. ‘You start good in the heats, you start good in the quarter-finals, you beat me out of the blocks in the semi-finals, so you see, you’re good.’
Bolt, Bailey, reigning World Champion Tyson Gay of the USA, Bolt’s Jamaican teammate and former world record holder Asafa Powell, Olympic runner-up Richard Thompson of Trinidad and Tobago, Britain’s Dwain Chambers, and 2003 World 200 metre silver medal winner Darvis ‘Doc’ Patton of the USA lined up for the final.
“Gun buss’, first 10 metres, I was gone,” Bailey said of his own start. “Thirty metres, it’s like I’m seeing a yellow in line with me, but I’m not sure if it was Bolt or Asafa Powell.”
Bailey’s fast start got him a bronze at the World Indoor Championships the following year, but in Berlin, the flash of yellow was Bolt. Data from the organisers revealed that he covered the first 20 metres in 2.89 seconds, with Thompson, a 2008 NCAA 60-metre champion, next at 2.90. Powell, Gay and Bailey clocked in at 2.91, 2.92 and 2.92 seconds, respectively.
“So, I said, no man, it must be Powell, because I know Powell has the greatest start,” Bailey continued.
Then the truth weighed in. “So wait, it’s Bolt? So, when we get to 35, 40 metres of the race, I’m thinking, is Bolt that? Wow, that was it,” Bailey surmised.
The contest was over by then. “He was just pulling away from the field, just pulling away”, he said, confirming the analysis that placed Bolt at 4.64 at 40 metres, 6.31 at 60, 7.92 at 80 and 9.58 at the finish. “Yeah”, Bailey sighed admiringly a decade later, “it was crazy.”
The 6.31-second clocking for Bolt at 60 metres outstripped the world record for the indoor 60 metres, then held by the outstanding American Maurice Greene at 6.39 seconds. The indoor record was lowered this year by Christian Coleman to 6.34.
Gay clocked 9.71 seconds, the fastest non-winning mark in sprint history, with Powell third in 9.84. Bailey was a 0.02 fraction of an eyeblink off his personal best in fourth place, as he shared the time of 9.93 with Thompson.
BREAKING THE RECORD
Asked if he is surprised that no one has approached Bolt’s 100-metre record in the decade since Berlin, Bailey commented, “the 9.58 is not a joke time. To run that time, you have to be born similar to Bolt, the same body structure, and everything, to break that record.”
As testament to Bailey’s analysis, Bolt has come closest. In London, he reset the Olympic record with his and history’s second-fastest time – 9.63 seconds – in the 100 again in 2012. Gay and Blake have matched personal bests of 9.69 seconds, but Bolt remains the only man to go under 9.6.
Blessed with the best start among today’s sprinters, Coleman has been the quickest in the last three seasons at 9.82 in 2017, 9.79 in 2018, and 9.81 so far in 2019.
The man affectionately called ‘Bakka’ in Antigua and Barbuda doesn’t write off the possibility of someone eventually reaching Bolt’s speed levels, but said, “Somebody has to come really, really good to get 9.58. We’re not talking at about 9.8, or 9.7. We’re talking about 9.58!”