Will 2016 be the year somebody defeats Usain Bolt in an Olympic final?
Usain Bolt is undefeated in Olympic finals.
At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Jamaican sprinter won three gold medals (100m, 200m, 4x100m), all in world record time. Then at the 2012 London Games, he became the first athlete to sweep the 100m, 200m and 4x100m at consecutive Olympics.
But this year a hamstring injury caused him to withdraw from Jamaica’s Olympic Trials in early July. Three sprinters have run faster times than Bolt this year in the 100m, and four have clocked better times in the 200m.
Several track and field experts responded to the following question via email from NBCOlympics.com: Will 2016 be the year somebody defeats Usain Bolt in an Olympic final?
This is the first in a three-part series.
Everything with Bolt assumes he's in OK shape. Based on the 19.89 200-meters he ran July 22 in London to prove his "fitness" while testing his hamstrings, you'd have to say he's probably, uh, OK.
Assuming he's fit:
In the 200, Bolt is essentially unbeatable. He runs the turn better than maybe anyone, ever.
In the 100, though, Bolt is for sure vulnerable. Justin Gatlin could have, should have beaten him at last year's world championships in Beijing. When the two of them run a 100, it's two distinct races. Gatlin owns the first 50 meters, Bolt comes on strong over the final 50. If Gatlin can keep it together this year, he's a real threat to beat Bolt in the 100. Remember: Gatlin is the 2004 Olympic 100 champion.
Also, Yohan Blake. Though maybe the politics of track and field in Jamaica don't allow for Blake to beat Bolt on the Olympic stage. Who knows?
In the 4x100 relay, the Americans proved at the 2015 World Relays in the Bahamas that there's a recipe for beating Bolt and the Jamaicans: get out strong early and hold on. At the Olympics, though, the Americans won't have Ryan Bailey, who ran the anchor in the Bahamas; it's not his year. So -- if Trayvon Bromell, say, can do his thing and if the Americans don't have baton problems, it's possible. Stress: possible.
One week ago, I would have been inclined to say that not only would one person beat Usain Bolt in an Olympic final but that he wouldn’t three-peat in either the 100m or 200m. But after watching his victory in the 200m at the Diamond League meet in London on Friday, I have done a 180 in my thinking and, no I do not believe Bolt will be beaten in Rio.
There was a lot to like about this. After the two false starts, Bolt’s start was outstanding, which is not necessarily his norm. He attacked the curve. He showed pull-away speed down the stretch. He eased up 15 meters from the line, and still ran 19.89.
I am seeing this year from Bolt somewhat similarly to the World Championships years in 2011 and 2013, when he had one or two good – not otherworldly – performances prior to the big show and proved unbeatable once he got there (Daegu 100m false start DQ aside).
Also, let’s not forget that “pundits” forecasted vulnerability, if not gloom and doom, for Bolt four years ago. We all know how that turned out.
Will Justin Gatlin and LaShawn Merritt be tough to beat? Yes. They are certainly formidable opponents. But there is just something about Bolt when he gets on the Olympic stage. Having witnessed it up close and personal twice, I am not prepared to bet against him now.
I don't believe this will be the year we see someone cross the finish line ahead of Usain. Yes, the margin of victory has decreased over the years but there's just something about Bolt peaking at the right time. The injury woes of July are nothing to get too worked up about. It's no surprise to see Bolt get off to a slow start, claim an injury, see his German doctor and allow us to doubt him before he pulls off the victory. Bolt will be ready in Rio.
Playing the percentages, I would have to pick Bolt to lose at least one of his Olympic races this year. In particular, Jamaica’s 4x100m relay team has never been weaker in the Bolt era, and that race is looking like a coin flip between Bolt’s squad and the Americans. I do think Bolt sweeps the 100m and 200m, but those are certainly not locks.