It took just 8.79 seconds, two blinks, for The Fastest Man Alive to grab the baton from Marvin Anderson and cross the finish line.
But Usain Bolt pleased the crowd Saturday at Franklin Field for longer than the brief time it took him to anchor Jamaica’s 4x100-meter team to a record-setting victory in the USA vs. The World event.
Over an hour before the race was scheduled to begin, Bolt and the rest of the Jamaican relay teams — sans Asafa Powell, who was out with an inflamed tendon in his second toe — began warming up on the infield amidst wild applause from the capacity crowd of 54,310.
With twenty minutes to go, after the USA women’s Blue team of Lisa Barber, Allyson Felix, Mikele Barber and Carmelita Jeter sprinted to victory in the 4x100m relay, the crowd erupted once again as Bolt stepped onto the track.
“I couldn’t hear my music through my headphones,” Lisa Barber said.“Is the president here?” her twin sister Mikele asked jokingly after the race.
And ten minutes before Bolt’s race, runners from Mississippi State were forced to tune out the thunderous crowd to claim victory in the College Men’s 4x200 Championship of America.
“We just had to keep our heads focused,” anchor Tavaris Tate said in a press conference.
Meanwhile, Bolt casually made his way to the northeast corner of the track — the “woo corner,” as Olympian Sanya Richards-Ross calls it, where thousands of Jamaican fans give their signature cheer each year — to prepare for his leg of the race.
But Bolt, who is known and sometimes criticized for being too lazy and laid-back, doesn’t get into a “zone” before he races.
“I just try to smile and enjoy myself,” he said.
Spectators also did not catch Bolt listening to music — he said he doesn’t “do that iPod thing.”
Were he an iPod man, Bolt also wouldn’t have been able to hear his music over the crowd’s deafening roar.
After several attempts from the announcer to quiet the stadium, the race finally began, six minutes behind schedule.
“That’s one in a million,” Bolt said of the crowd support at the start. “When you go anywhere else in the world, they are quiet. You get in front of Jamaicans and they make noise until you ask them to be quiet.”
Just 29.11 seconds after the starting gun, Anderson passed the baton to Bolt, giving team Jamaica a slight lead heading into the final leg. For Bolt, a headstart, no matter how slight, essentially guarantees victory.
“I got the baton pretty much in front, so I didn’t really worry about anything else,” Bolt said.
And just a few steps into the final stretch, Bolt extended his lead and cruised to a Penn Relays record finish of 37.90.
“When I was watching the race, I knew he was amazing, but I had no idea he was that fast,” college senior Robbie Fuino said. “He made elite sprinters look like boys.”
But the story of the race — aside from Bolt’s anchor leg — was the Jamaica Gold team’s flawless handoffs. Those key factors combined to give Jamaica the win, nearly a half-second ahead of USA Blue.
Before the race, Bolt predicted good things from his team, especially their hand-offs.
“We all train together so we should be good with baton changes … We are taking this pretty seriously,” he said.
And while Jamaica Gold had practiced their exchanges for weeks, the runner-up USA Blue team of Walter Dix, Mike Rodgers, Shawn Crawford and Ivory Williams stressed their disappointment.
“I’m tired of being plagued with messed up hand-offs,” Crawford, a three time Olympian, said. “We’re better than that.”
“This is the first time we lost to Jamaica, and they broke our record, so it doesn’t feel good,” Williams said. “How would you feel if somebody came to your house and beat you?”
Though the 2010 track season is still young, all of the runners look forward to returning to Philadelphia for the one-of-a-kind Relay Carnival.
Will Bolt be back at Penn next year to defend his title?
“Ask my coach.”
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