There will always be another. This is the eternal lesson of track and field. On a sweltering August night 12 years ago, Michael Johnson lashed the 200-meter world record to his back and seemed to drag it deep into the future. He ran 19.32 seconds, so fast that young men accepted that they would not see the record broken again in their lifetimes.
Usain Bolt was 9 years old on that night, growing up tall and skinny — “I was tall when I was little,” says Bolt — in Trelawny Parish on the north shore of Jamaica, an hour’s drive from the vacation resorts of Montego Bay and Ocho Rios. He loved to play cricket with his friends, and if he was talented, he was also a little lazy.
But one afternoon two years later, he ran too fast at a school field day and found himself on the track team, because Jamaica will compel a sprinter to sprint. Somewhere a clock began ticking, counting down the life of Johnson’s record, unseen and unknown, but inexorable.
At the age of 12, Bolt ran 52 seconds flat for 400 meters on a grass track in Manchester, Jamaica. He won the world junior 400-meter title at age 16, beating athletes who were four years older. He was impossibly precocious. “We knew what was coming,” said Bert Cameron, a Jamaican national coach who was also the 400-meter world champion in 1983.
On Wednesday night in the Olympic Stadium called the Bird’s Nest, Bolt ran 19.30 seconds to take down Johnson’s world record.
Great article in SI.