He may have been pushed all the way to the line in the semifinals, but Usain Bolt’s greatest competitor in the final of the men’s 200m a Rio’s Olympic Stadium on Thursday night is likely to be the clock. After claiming 100m gold on Sunday, the Jamaican is seeking to complete a remarkable and unprecedented sprint double in three successive Olympics. Victory would also put the 29-year-old one step away from a “triple-triple,” which could be accomplished in Friday’s 4x100m relay final, a feat no other sprinter has even got close to before.
It is similarly doubtful that anybody can get close to Bolt in the final of the 200m. After all, while it is the 100m that is track and field’s showpiece race and where Bolt also holds the world record, it is over 200m that he is even more dominant. It is the event that Bolt has always called his favorite, unsurprisingly given that the longer distance lessens the impact of his comparatively slow rising from the blocks and maximizes his devastating long strides.
In the semifinals on Wednesday, Bolt, having built up a customary lead around the bend was looking to ease off in the final 20 meters, only for Canadian Andre De Grasse keep him honest all the way to the line. It prompted a delightful exchange of smiles between the pair as they set the third and fourth fastest times of the 2016 and perhaps even suggested that Bolt could have a serious rival in the final.
"He was supposed to slow down,” Bolt said afterward. “I said 'What are you doing, it's a semifinal?' But I think he wanted to push me. I was a bit lazy but I got round. I saw that he got a national record actually [19.80], so he means business.”
Having already taken bronze in the 100m, the 21-year-old De Grasse is a man brimming with confidence and a potential star of the future, if not the present. American LaShawn Merritt will also hope to be in the mix. Bronze medalist in the 400m in Rio, the 30-year-old owns the fastest time in the world this year of 19.74.
Two of the athletes who in theory could have threatened Bolt, or at least the medals, will not even line up in the final. Justin Gatlin, who took silver in the 100m, was beaten out at the finish of his semifinal to only come in third, while Yohan Blake, silver medalist in both the 100m and 200m in London, could only finish sixth in his semifinal following a succession of injury problems in recent years.
So confident is Bolt, though, that he is talking not about his competition but of beating his world record. Bolt first broke Michael Johnson’s formidable record of 19.32 in the 2008 Olympics and then went faster again in the following year’s World Championship with a 19.19. It is asking a lot, then, for him to go even quicker seven years later. But going under the elusive 19-second barrier remains a powerful motivation.
“I definitely think I can try for my world record of 19.19, I definitely feel that,” he said after his semifinal. “I need to run efficiently and get into the straight and run the perfect race. I will be hoping for lane six, or seven maybe, to be able to run as smooth as I can.”
Bolt has indeed got his wish, and has been drawn in lane six for the final on Thursday night. Meritt and De Grasse will run inside of him.
Men’s 200m Final Start List
1. Ramil Guliyev (TUR)
2. Adam Gemili (GBR)
3. Alonso Edward (PAN)
4. Andre De Grasse (CAN)
5. LaShawn Merritt
6. Usain Bolt (JAM)
7. Christophe Lemaitre (FRA)
8. Churandy Martina (NED)
Race Time: 9.30 p.m. EDT
TV Channel: NBC
Live Stream: NBCOlympics.com