- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Usain Bolt’s performance at the world track and field championships has spawned new superlatives.

The Jamaican sprinter, who last week shattered his world records in the 100 and 200 meters, left rivals in awe and commentators wondering whether any athlete has been so dominant.

“The gap in talent and performance is definitely unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” said former Olympic sprinter Ato Boldon, an analyst for NBC Sports. “I remember the guys in the 1980s talking about Carl Lewis and them saying they were just showing up for second because he was really dominant. But this must be like what that was like but to a greater extent. Carl Lewis lost occasionally.”

It’s not enough simply to note Bolt is the record holder in the two top sprint events. It’s important to acknowledge the way he has done it, shaving huge chunks of time off records that once were seen as nearly unbreakable.

Tyson Gay ran the third-fastest 100 meters in history last week in Berlin - but finished 0.13 seconds behind Bolt. Bolt’s time of 9.58 cut 0.11 seconds off his record set at the Beijing Olympics last year.

“Bolt lost last year, but those days are over, quite frankly,” Boldon said. “He’s going to have to have an awful day and somebody else will have to have an extraordinary day just to make it competitive.”

Has any other athlete ever seemed so unbeatable? In track and field, Edwin Moses won 122 consecutive races in the 400-meter hurdles between 1977 and 1987. Pole vaulter Sergey Bubka won six straight world championships between 1983 and 1997, breaking the world record 35 times. And then there was Lewis, who dominated the 100 meters in the 1983 world championships and the 1984 Olympics.

Cyclist Lance Armstrong appeared nearly unbeatable in reeling off seven consecutive Tour de France titles between 1999 and 2005. Michael Phelps’ swimming performances, which included a record eight gold medals at last year’s Beijing Games, appear to have no equal.

Tiger Woods and Roger Federer have been the class of golf and tennis for the past decade. Each has spent the majority of his career ranked No. 1 in the world, and each has reeled of stretches of play that made him appear invincible.

Woods won four straight majors in 2000 and 2001. In 2000, he won nine times and finished outside the top 10 just three times. Federer, who holds the record with 15 Grand Slams, won 11 majors between 2004 and 2007. He went 74-6 in 2004.

“In my opinion, Bolt doesn’t really compare,” said Josh Gordon, a writer for thesportsdebates.com, a Web site devoted to examining common arguments in sports. “To really proclaim someone as dominant, they really have to do it more than a couple of times. That’s not to say Bolt isn’t an outstanding athlete, but Tiger Woods has dominated golf for 10 years. Federer has dominated tennis for five years. Usain Bolt has basically had a couple of good weekends.”

At his best, Woods has been known to fill opponents with self-doubt.

“You do get the feeling sometimes that the rest of us are all out there playing for second,” Fred Couples said after Woods shot a third-round 62 en route to winning the Bridgestone Invitational.

James Martin, the editor of Tennis Magazine and Tennis.com, said Federer has had a similar effect on his fellow players.

“He was definitely heads and tails above everybody,” Martin said of Federer’s play from 2005 to 2007. “[Opponents] walked onto the course against Roger and knew they lost.”

Woods and Federer have rewritten the record books several times in their careers, and Bolt is starting to make a habit of it, too. The world record in the 100 meters dropped from 9.92 in 1988 to 9.72 in 2008, a span of 20 years. Bolt has trimmed the record by 0.14 seconds in just one year. In the 200 meters, his record of 19.19 is 0.13 seconds faster than Michael Johnson’s 19.32 in 1996, a time once seen as unbreakable.

Bolt, too, is killing the confidence of his fellow sprinters.

“I have had two guys I’ve spoken to who, to put it quite bluntly, they’re ready to quit,” Boldon said. “They have absolutely no motivation to train next year because they’re like, ‘How can I compete with that?’ ”

It’s possible Bolt, who just turned 23, has not peaked; many top sprinters don’t reach their full potential until their late 20s. Boldon said Bolt can improve his technique and said a car accident in the spring affected his ability to train.

“I pride myself in being a sports fan,” Boldon said. “I cannot think of any other time, certainly in my lifetime, when there’s been a bigger gap between first and second.”

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