Ato Boldon, the four-time Olympic sprint medalist who now is an incisive TV commentator, was on a train to the Olympic Stadium on Saturday when a fan sitting next to him started to make a case for Tyson Gay in the 100-meter showdown with Usain Bolt at the World Track and Field Championships.
The fan was giving Gay a shot in today’s final because he has run slightly faster than Bolt at both 100 and 200 meters this season.
Boldon reached into his briefcase, pulled out a portable Internet device and cued up video of the 200 meters Bolt ran in a chilly downpour and a 2-mph head wind last month.
Despite those conditions, Bolt’s time, 19.59 seconds, was just one-hundredth slower than Gay’s best in perfect weather with a 3-mph tail wind.
“Look at what Bolt can do,” Boldon said. “You have got to find someone from Saturn or Mars to beat this guy, someone from another planet.”
Bolt, running Saturday in bright orange carbon fiber spikes that weigh 1.73 ounces and would be the height of fashion on Tatooine, did nothing otherworldly in advancing through the first two rounds of the 100.
In the quarterfinals, Bolt flew out of the blocks, started looking left and right at 60 meters and then happily let Daniel Bailey of the Netherlands Antilles beat him. They were smiling at each other in the final 10 meters while finishing in 10.02 and 10.03 seconds.
Gay, the U.S. record-holder, was expressionless as usual in winning his two races, but there were signs in the quarterfinal, when he overcame a terrible start to win in 9.98, that his groin injury is worrisome.
After winning his first-round race Saturday morning, Gay mentioned he had been playing it safe.
“My groin is pretty sore,” Gay said after the quarterfinal six hours later. “That’s why my start wasn’t that good.”
Boldon is among many who think even a 100% Gay has little chance to retain his world title in the 100.
“Tyson is capable of running 9.69 [Bolt’s world-record time],” Boldon said, “but to win, he needs his best start ever and then his best final 80 ever -- and a bad start for Bolt.”
Gay, 2007 world champion at 100 and 200, had his 2008 season ruined when he collapsed because of a hamstring injury in the 200 at the Olympic trials. He could not advance beyond the 100 semis at the Olympics, where Bolt won the final in world-record time.
“Tyson will definitely put up a challenge,” Bolt said Thursday. “I’m definitely predicting myself to win.”
Everyone has been predicting the 100 is a two-man race, but former world record-holder Asafa Powell of Jamaica had Saturday’s fastest time (9.95) while reformed doper Dwain Chambers of Great Britain also looked solid in the quarterfinals (10.04).
The semifinals are 2 1/2 hours before tonight’s final.
“If it is only two guys, just line them up and race,” said Darvis Patton of the U.S., second to Powell in the quarters. “Usain Bolt is a freak of nature, and Tyson Gay is great, but if you come here and make the final, anything is possible.”
Christian Cantwell, who expressed disgust over the effort that earned him a silver medal in the shot put at the 2008 Olympics, gave the U.S. its first gold of this world meet.
“This will never wipe away the [Olympic memory], and that’s not a memory I want wiped away,” Cantwell said. “At the time, I was really disappointed, but then I realized the importance of any Olympic medal. I cherish it, and this will just add to it.”
Cantwell, 28, of Columbia, Mo., became the third different U.S. thrower to win in the last three world championships, following Adam Nelson (5th this time) and Reese Hoffa (4th).
“It’s a legacy,” Cantwell said.
Cantwell’s legacy before Saturday had been his inability to win the big outdoor title. He erased that by topping Olympic champion Tomasz Majewski of Poland on his fifth of six throws, 72 feet, 3 1/2 inches, best in the world this season. Majewski (71-10 3/4 ) finished second.
On the air
TV coverage of world championships:
Today, Ch. 4, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Monday, Versus, 6-8 a.m, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
Tuesday, Versus, 6-8 a.m, 10 a.m.-noon.
Wednesday, Versus, 6-8 a.m, 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m.
Thursday, Versus, 6-8 a.m., 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
Friday, Versus, 6-8 a.m., 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Saturday: Versus, 6-8 a.m; Ch. 4, noon-2 p.m.
Sunday, Aug. 23: Ch. 4, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. (delayed).
Note: The entire event will be streamed live on universalsports.com, and Versus also has daily coverage on tape delay.