Commentary

There are similarities to Johnson, but Bolt a sprinter all his own

Updated: August 21, 2008, 7:23 AM ET
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

BEIJING -- Clearly, Lightning can strike twice.

Usain "Lightning" Bolt won his second Olympic gold medal in his second world-record time. He won the 100 meters Saturday while goofing around. He won the 200 on Wednesday while running dead serious. He is a multipurpose, multievent, multimood ballistic missile.

For the first time since 1979, one man holds the world record in both events. He was a Jamaican then (Donald Quarrie), and he is a Jamaican now. A nation with an outsized sprinting heritage has found its biggest star yet.

"Everything came together tonight," Bolt said. "I just blew my mind. I blew the world's mind."

He certainly blew Michael Johnson's mind. Johnson had owned the 200 record until now: 19.32 seconds. He set it in 1996, making it the oldest sprint record in the books.

Bolt already owned the 100 record, which is why he commenced showboating in the final meters of that race and lowered it by "only" three-hundredths of a second when he could have come close to hacking away a full second. He badly wanted a matching set of sprint marks.

"I saw I could get the world record in the 200, so I said, 'I'm going to leave everything on the track,'" Bolt said. Then he went out and did it.

He ran with complete focus through the finish, even noticeably straining a bit. The effort was needed to shave two-hundredths of a second off Johnson's mark and awaken the echoes of that hot night in Atlanta 12 years ago.

Johnson wore gold spikes then. Bolt wore them now.

When Johnson hit the wire then, he glanced to his left at the clock and threw his arms wide in jubilant shock. Bolt reacted in much the same way.

Earlier on Wednesday, Johnson said Bolt would break his 200 record someday, but probably not this day. Johnson cited Bolt's relative inexperience running the curve and said he'd need to improve in that area first.

Turns out Bolt's steep learning curve includes significant progress in running the curve. This race was so over by the time the 6-foot-5 Bolt roared into the straightaway.

[+] EnlargeUsain Bolt
Shaun Botterill/Getty ImagesUsain Bolt won the 200 in 19.30 seconds, becoming the first man since Carl Lewis in 1984 to sweep the 100 and 200 golds at an Olympics.

"Michael Johnson is a great athlete, and he revolutionized the sport," Bolt said. "I just changed it a little bit."

He changed it in part by being so tall for a sprinter. Bolt is far longer than the archetypal speedster, but with none of the awkwardness that might inhibit someone with limbs like his. As he flowed away from the field in the 200, his 9-foot strides looked effortless.

"He's beautiful to watch," said former Olympic gold medal hurdler Renaldo Nehemiah. "He's poetry in motion."

He's silliness at rest. In a sport rife with preening prima donnas, Bolt has taken posturing to a new level before, during and after a race. It seems relatively harmless -- goofy kid's stuff from a guy who just turned 22 on Thursday and was serenaded with a chorus of "Happy Birthday" by the Chinese fans at the Bird's Nest.

"He added spirit to the sport," said American Shawn Crawford, who benefited from two disqualifications for running outside the lanes to vault from fourth to second in the 200. "He danced in the introductions, and he danced at the end."

When Bolt was introduced to the huge crowd, he wiped his hands across the top of his head 11 times, wiped his brow in each direction and struck his now-familiar pose -- arms cocked skyward. Vague translation of all that: The rest of you are in deep trouble.

Afterward, Bolt briefly appeared overwhelmed by his accomplishment. Then he watched the replay on the big screen (his thought: "I look cool") and began one of the more lavish celebratory victory laps in Olympic history.

He did something approximating a limbo. He wiggled his knees. He waved his arms. He went over to the stands at several places to grab a flag or a hug. He took off his shoes and walked barefoot for a while.

"I was just happy," he said.

And eternally happy-go-lucky. Far and away, the two dominant stars of these Olympics are swimmer Michael Phelps and Bolt -- two child prodigies in their sports who have come to full flower here. Yet their excellence is accompanied by such markedly different personalities.

Phelps' massive caloric intake is expressly designed to feed a voracious metabolism -- he takes his food seriously. Bolt eats chicken nuggets whenever possible, including on race days. His mellow disposition allowed him to sleep until noon, then he asked his masseuse to bring him nuggets for lunch and nuggets for dinner.

Phelps is a mask of inscrutable concentration before a race, never acknowledging any outside presence when he's introduced. Bolt can't wait to mug for the camera and the fans.

When Phelps finished his races, his emotion tended to be directly proportionate to how close they were. He truly exulted over the close ones. Bolt hasn't had a close one here, but he has reacted like Chad Johnson on his showiest day.

But by midnight Wednesday, Bolt was decompressing and showing the effects of eight races here, counting prelims.

"I want to chill out," he said. "I just want to sleep. I wish I was in sandals right now, ready to take a weekend."

He could have won the 200 in sandals. But before it's time to take a weekend, Bolt still has to anchor a 400 relay team as the Jamaicans attempt to further their takeover bid of all the speed events.

So far in Beijing, the Jamaicans have won seven medals in events of 400 meters or shorter, while the Americans have won nine. But the tiny Caribbean country leads the big, bad U.S. in gold medals 4-2, and could add several more.

"We want to prove to the world we're the best," said Jamaican 400-meter hurdles gold medalist Melanie Walker.

This medal onslaught has produced delirium in Jamaica, where sprints are the national sport. Those who had TVs watched them when Bolt ran. Those who did not listened on the radio.

"I talked to the prime minister," Bolt said. "He told me everything in Jamaica is blocked off. Everyone is in the streets."

Lightning bolts usually send people running indoors. But Lightning Bolt striking twice is a reason to party in Jamaica.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.