Bolt breaks the 150m world record, Nadal loses on clay
A short post today on some sports news from the weekend.
First, and perhaps most exciting, Usain Bolt, he of three world records in Beijing, the fastest man in the world, has added the 150m world record to his 100m and 200m world records, by blasting a 14.35 secs in a specially organized street race in Manchester yesterday.
For those who did NOT see the race, here is a video of Bolt destroying the field by 0.7 seconds (note the graphic at the end of the race says 14.36s - it was rounded down to 14.35s)
Despite cool temperatures, and a reported lack of fitness thanks to a few minor injuries sustained in a car-crash about a month ago, Bolt's first big showing on the world stage in 2009 lived up to the hype (Bolt's love of speed extends beyond the track, apparently. The Jamaican taxi drivers are reported to have a nickname for him - "lead-foot").
The 150m dissected - splits and projections
Bolt's running is anything but lead-footed. He ran the first 100m in 9.90 seconds, which is an extra-ordinary time and a sign of things to come. But even more amazing, the final 100m (from 50m to the finish line) were clocked in an astonishing 8.72 seconds! That is being reported, though it's so fast I'm almost sceptical. The splits, as recorded during the race, were:
- 50m - 5.64s (this compares to 5.50s in Beijing, by the way)
- 100m - 9.90s (a split of 4.26 s. In Beijing last year, Bolt's last 50m of his 100m was 4.19s, including the infamous celebrations)
- 150 - 14.35s (split of 4.45 s)
I have tried hard to find the analysis we did on Usain Bolt's 200m win in Beijing, because I am almost certain we looked at his splits from that race, but unfortunately I can't seem to find the post in question. However, I'm pretty sure his last 100m was not as quick as 8.72 seconds (it would mean his first 100m took 10.58 seconds, which is much too slow). But the last 100m can be misleading because of the different race distances, and so to me, the first 100m in 9.90 secs is more intriguing, because few others have produced that form so early in the season.
Bolt has said he can take the record down to 9.4 seconds - it's not exactly unusual for guys (especially sprinters) to make predictions about themselves (every sprinter worth his salt knocks a tenth of his time in order to hype himself up), but Bolt certainly has a lot to live up to, with hype and attention that has rarely been given to a track and field athlete.
Comparing races - what can be read into the 150m WR? Is Bolt already in WR shape for the 200m?
Much will no doubt be made of Bolt's time and what it means. The 8.72s is spectacular, for sure, but I believe the more telling stats are the 9.90 for the 100m, and also that second 50m interval at 4.26seconds, which is slightly slower than in his 100m final in Beijing (where he celebrated to lose time). Both splits are incredibly fast, but neither is quite up to the heights he reached in Beijing.
Therefore, when fellow athletes say he is already in 19.30 s shape in May, I believe they are incorrect, or getting carried away. Bolt is in awesome shape, yes, but he is 0.2 seconds/100m off the form he had in Beijing, so one should not become too eager to project times of sub-19 for the 200m just yet!
Also, it's not quite the same comparing this 150m race to a normal 200m race - distance counts a great deal at this speed - adding 33% to the race distance impacts on how it is paced. Also, bear in mind that this 150m time was achieved on a straight, without the hindrance of the bend, so any translation UP to 200m is slightly flawed (apart from the obvious distance increase). Finally, I must confess that I'm not 100% convinced about the track surface - remember this track was set up in the city especially for the race and I can't vouch for how it compares to a standard tartan track.
All these factors impact on the performance, and so I would caution against getting too carried away with the actual time in a rarely run event. However, Bolt is clearly carrying some awesome form into the season, and it augurs well for what might be a spectacular season.
So Bolt is back, his off-season antics and growing status as a off-track superstar clearly not slowing him down too much. Whatever your opinion of Bolt - his partying, his celebrations prior to finishing Olympic finals, his general approach to the sport - there is no doubt that he is very, very good for track and field. It has been a long time, perhaps never, that we've had an athlete who is able to garner so much attention OUTSIDE the sport's enthusiasts. Bolt transcends the sport, he is its biggest promotional tool, and hopefully, his on track form can continue to support his off-track persona!
Now, we just need Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay to step forward and turn this one-man entertainment vehicle into a great sporting rivalry, and then athletics will be the winner!
Nadal on clay - a rare defeat
Speaking of great rivalries, Roger Federer managed to turn around a losing streak of note against his great rival, Rafael Nadal, by winning the Madrid Masters Series event. For Federer to beat Nadal is rare enough - he'd lost their previous five finals. But to do so on clay is an enormous achievement for him.
However, before fans start to claim that the tide has turned and that Federer has regained his status as the man to beat, it must be pointed out that the last time Nadal lost a final on clay, it was to Federer, in Hamburg, and only a few weeks later, he went on to beat Federer in the final of the French Open. I suspect that the same may happen this year, only I'm not even sure that Federer will be the man to be beaten in that final.
I'd say the big favourite for the French Open remains Nadal - he's been beaten once all year on clay, but has played more matches than any other player. He played every single match of Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Rome and Madrid, and in the end, was a victim of his own schedule. Many are pointing to the epic semi-final he played against Djokovic on Saturday as the reason for the loss, but I think it can be traced to the whole season, not just one match.
Nadal looked tired, sluggish, and lacking his usual sharpness. He made more errors in each of his last four matches than he has made in some tournaments in the past, and generally was well below his best. I'd put him at about 70%. And in the last three matches in Madrid, he was, to be blunt, poor (by his standards). He plays too often, given his game, and if he wants to be around and winning two Grand Slams a year in five years' time, I think he'd be wise to curtail his other tournament appearances.
I think a week off, then the itinerary of matches in Paris, with a day off between matches, will see him much more difficult to beat, and I think he'll win the French Open comfortably.
The second favourite is not Federer, but Novak Djokovic, who I think would beat Federer 7 times out of 10 on clay. Second to Nadal twice this year, I think Djokovic is the form player, playing even better than Nadal (it's just that Nadal off form on clay still beats everyone on form). Then the third favourite, jointly, would be Verdasco and Federer. In fact, I'd even give it to Verdasco, because he is a left-hander and his natural top-spin forehand plays on the Federer-single-handed backhand.
So in my opinion, the battle for Paris will be fought between Nadal, Djokovic and Verdasco. Obviously, the draw makes a huge impact, because if Federer ends up on the same side of the draw as Djokovic and Verdasco, then there's very little chance he'll win it. If it's Nadal, then maybe, just maybe, they'll push the Spaniard hard enough that he finds Federer a challenge. I doubt it though...
That's it for today, just a news-type post, some opinion. Hope you enjoyed the video of Bolt, and we'll see how it sets up the rest of his season.