How bold is UCLA's Ato Boldon? He said Friday that four men in today's Olympic 100-meter final will run under 9.80 seconds.
Without the illegal aid of a wind, the only man who has run the 100 faster is Ben Johnson. He ran his 9.79 in the 1988 Summer Games with the illegal aid of a steroid. Since then, no one has come closer than the world record of 9.85.
Actually, Boldon, who represents his native Trinidad and Tobago, is not that bold. Pressed later about his prediction as he tried to accommodate as many reporters as possible after the second round of the 100 in Centennial Olympic Stadium, the gregarious Boldon revised it. He said two men would run under 9.80.
"Me and somebody else," he said.
OK, so he is pretty bold.
Boldon, who won the NCAA 100 as a senior this year and still trains in Westwood, felt he had earned the right to talk with his 9.95 in the second round Friday afternoon. The semifinals and final are today.
As for the identity of the man Boldon believes can challenge him for the gold medal, there might have been a clue when he interrupted his conversation with reporters to watch a later second-round heat on a television monitor underneath the stadium.
"10.02," he shouted, guessing the time that would flash on the screen after Namibia's Frankie Fredericks had won the heat.
The time that appeared a moment later was 9.93, the fastest of Friday's first two rounds.
"Whoops," Boldon said. "Whoops."
None of the 14 other sprinters who advanced into the semifinals ran under 10 seconds, but those who talked said they did not take that as a sign that they will not be contenders today. Most of them have been around long enough not to take the first two rounds as a sign of anything.
"He's a little more clairvoyant than the rest of us," former Bruin Mike Marsh said of Boldon after winning his second-round heat in 10.04. "Maybe he has a connection to a deity that I don't. There are always surprises."
For that same reason, the women who advanced through the first two rounds of their 100-meter competition conceded nothing in today's semifinals and final to defending champion Gail Devers. Another former UCLA sprinter, she ran a startling time of 10.92 in the morning and followed it with a 10.94 in the evening. No one else ran under 11.02 in either round.
Gwen Torrence, the local favorite from Lithonia, Ga., who has been suffering from a pulled thigh muscle, ran 11.11 in each, but said that she was holding back. She suspected that Devers was not.
"When you run 10.92 and 10.94, you're not letting up," Torrence said.
No matter how fast the women run today, they are not likely to challenge Florence Griffith Joyner's world record of 10.49. But even Marsh, who does not like to make or hear predictions, said he believes the men's record held by Leroy Burrell is in jeopardy.
Besides Boldon, Fredericks and Marsh, good bets to reach today's final are defending champion Linford Christie of Great Britain, world champion Donovan Bailey of Canada, world bronze medalist Bruny Surin of Canada and Americans Dennis Mitchell and Jon Drummond.
And no matter that Michael Johnson is trying to make history next week by becoming the first man to win the Olympic 200 and 400, Boldon said that no one can claim the title as the world's fastest man other than today's 100 champion.
"When Michael Johnson can run 27 mph and 9.84 for the 100 meters, he'll be the fastest," Boldon said. "Now, he's just the fittest."
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Track and Field
Track and field begins its run at the Centennial Olympic Stadium today with finals in the shoutput and 20-kilometer walk. Michael Johnson starts his run at an unprecedented men's double with preliminaries in the 400 meters.
The winners of the 100 meter dash earn more than a medal--they win bragging rights as the fastest people in the world.
9.86 seconds: Frank Fredericks, Namibia (July 3)
9.92 seconds: Ato Boldon, Trinidad (June 1)
9.92 seconds: Tobago (June 15)
9.93 seconds: Dennis Mitchell, U.S. and Donovan Bailey, Canada (July 3)
10.82 seconds: Gwen Torrence, U.S. (June 15)
10.91 seconds: Gail Devers, U.S. (June 15)
10.92 seconds: Merlene Ottey, Jamaica (June 7)
10.92 seconds: D'Andre Hill, U.S. (June 15)
10 seconds of speed Though it's over in a flash, the race requires careful strategy.
The start: Runner is in the blocks. When the starter calls, "Get set," he raises his pelvis, supporting his weight equally on hands and feet. On "GO," he springs from the blocks.
The pick-up: Within the first seven or eight strides, covering about 10 meters, the runner goes from 0 mph to about 20 mph.
Acceleration: From 10 to 45 meters, speed builds to more than 25 mph.
Maximum speed: To maintain this speed, the runner must hold a relaxed form. In the final stride, the runner pushes his chest out and his arms back to propel himself across the finish line.
Source: International Amateur Athletic Federation; The Encyclopedia of Track and Field