Back to Beijing: Usain Bolt's 100m world record with an untied shoelace

Olympic Channel looks back at Usain Bolt's incredible performance in the 100m final at Beijing 2008

Ten years after the race that shook the world - Olympic Channel looks back at Usain Bolt's incredible world record beating performance in the 100m final at Beijing 2008... and that untied shoelace.

There was the normal gunshot and off they went. Fast.

Just 9.69 seconds later the world was in shock.

It was the fastest a running human had ever moved over 100 metres.

But it was the way the race was won that etched the moment into the global consciousness.

Usain Bolt danced his way to his lane, made faces at the camera and then slowed down before the finish line.

The Jamaican had arrived.

"I don't think there is any race that had that utter shock, because of the nature of his acceleration, the celebration at the end and the magnitude of the stage." - four-time Olympic medallist Ato Boldon to the Olympic Channel Podcast.

Bolt's world record for the 100m stands at 9.58s from the 2009 Berlin World Championships.

But the memory of 2008 remains as clear as ever.

Boldon said, "If you asked Usain, 'Show yourself to other galaxies in nine seconds,' I think that’s the race he would use… because it’s just the most jaw-dropping example we have of what someone can do against the other seven fastest humans on the planet."

THE UNTIED SHOELACE

Many have been crowned the fastest but few have managed to make the 100 metres look so easy.

With 20 metres to go, Bolt slapped his chest and slowed down knowing the race was won.

Usain Bolt of Jamaica wins the 100m at Beijing 2008
Usain Bolt of Jamaica wins the 100m at Beijing 2008Usain Bolt of Jamaica wins the 100m at Beijing 2008

The normal advice to sprinters is something along the lines of: 'Block out the crowd as much as you can before the race, execute your race plan cleanly and stay humble if you win.'

But Bolt is no normal athlete.

The big Jamaican toyed with the camera at the start line, finished with an untied shoelace and celebrated before he had won.

"That was Bolt though, right?" said Boldon.

"His top is not tucked in to his shorts, (his) shoes are untied (and) he takes the last third of the race off."

Bolt was criticised for his behaviour at the time but, ultimately, it's another reason why people remember the race.

Boldon said back in 2008 that it was 'Good TV, bad sportsmanship'.

But his view has softened with time.

"I don't know if I understood that night.

"I think the beauty of it negates him (not just) just running through the line. Because we don't have (another) race like that in the sport. Ever."

How much time did he lose? Usain Bolt broke the 100m world record in Beijing despite running with an untied shoelace
How much time did he lose? Usain Bolt broke the 100m world record in Beijing despite running with an untied shoelaceHow much time did he lose? Usain Bolt broke the 100m world record in Beijing despite running with an untied shoelace

BEGGING TO RACE THE 100M

Bolt arrived at Beijing 2008 as fully formed but slightly mysterious.

He broke 20 seconds for the 200 metres as a 17-year-old, setting a new world junior record.

But injuries had hindered his progress before he claimed silver in the 200 and the 4x100m relay at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka.

In the age before social media sharing and GIFs, the world had not seen a great deal of the 21-year-old.

At the start of May 2008, he took part in his first high-class 100m at the Jamaica Invitational.

From nowhere he clocked 9.76 seconds, the second fastest time in history behind fellow Jamaican Asafa Powell.

Three weeks later, he went to New York and set a new world record of 9.72s.

Even so, he was far from a household name approaching Beijing which would actually be his second Olympic appearance.

Suffering from a leg injury, he ran 21.05s in the first round of the 200m at Athens 2004 and was eliminated.

The big Jamaican would double up in China with the 100 metres just his fourth career final in the event at an elite level.

He won in dominant fashion and when pressed about his celebration before the line, Bolt was dismissive.

"I came here just to win, that was my aim," Bolt told the news agency Reuters. "I didn’t even know I'd won the record till I did my victory lap."

Boldon believes executing his gameplan simply to win the race was why he slowed down and celebrated.

"He always felt like he could run the 100m but no one had ever given him a chance.

“The 100m gold medal was a big deal (to Bolt) because it was the medal that nobody else but himself could have predicted… 16 months prior to that race."

'FORGET ABOUT BOLT'

The man in second place that night in Beijing was Trinidad and Tobago’s Richard Thompson.

Bolt's celebration is remembered more widely but Thompson’s reaction to coming second is worth a second viewing.

He went absolutely crazy.

Before the final, a worried Thompson called Boldon.

“I said, 'Listen, forget about (beating) Bolt. You just hang on to him and you’ll be fine.'

"I don't know if Richard ever saw himself as Olympic medallist of 100 metres that year.

“(What you see is) the relief of winning your first Olympic medal. But I think it's also him just being elated that nobody else besides Bolt beat him."

Richard Thompson and Usain Bolt celebrate as they cross the line in the 100m Final at Beijing 2008
Richard Thompson and Usain Bolt celebrate as they cross the line in the 100m Final at Beijing 2008Richard Thompson and Usain Bolt celebrate as they cross the line in the 100m Final at Beijing 2008

WHY SO SERIOUS?

It's easy to forget that before Bolt, the 100 metres was serious business.

Boldon thinks it was perhaps too serious.

"My generation was Donovan Bailey, Frankie Fredericks, Dennis Mitchell and Maurice Greene.

"I look at us before the starting line - everybody looks like a fight is going to break out.

"I look back at it (now), I go: ‘That’s something my generation got wrong'."

Bolt's easy-going nature and smile led to a softening of attitudes to the build-up to the race and the celebrations after it.

It also brought more responsibility.

Not only did you have to be fast – but you had to have character too.

"I look at the Bolt generation - for the most part, they are a lot friendlier, they shook hands before the race, they did more of congratulating each other after the race.

"It should be more of what Bolt was about and a little less of what we were about."

THE PEAK

The swaggering pre-race performance from 2008 was not just down to Bolt’s personality.

He knew he was going to win because he was in really good shape.

Boldon says there was a pattern.

"The more he did (before the race), the bigger the margin of victory.

"(It was) almost like, 'I know I have a bigger engine here and this is not going to be close.'"

It certainly was not close in 2008, and his margin of victory in a 100m final would never be as great again.

"As an athlete I remember: the personal best also feels like the easiest. You feel like you can get back to it anytime.

"(After 2009), Usain Bolt never got back to 9.5."

The 100m final also started close to a decade of dominance ending with his retirement from the track after the 2017 London World Championships.

"Not that he ever lacked confidence but I felt like you could see (how he would perform) by the pre-race demeanour." - Ato Boldon on Usain Bolt

The performance peaked over the period 2008-09 – during the race and also the capers around the race.

"As a coach, I have studied the 2009 world record more.

"But… if you had to show an alien who had landed here the fastest human that has ever walked the face of the earth – I don’t think you show his world record in 2009 – I think you show (2008)."

SHOWBOAT v FOCUS

In a world with 360-degree athlete plans requiring competitors to sacrifice so much for one performance at the Olympic Games, Bolt’s behaviour acts as a counter-balance.

As sport became professionalised, the pressure to focus mounted.

And though we have seen athletes lighten up and relax since Bolt, it's still rare to see the full fireworks show like Bolt gave before, during and after the 100m final in 2008.

"You are stressed at home watching him. He is on the starting line, looking like he hasn't a care in the world," said Boldon who is now a coach to upcoming stars like Jamaica’s Briana Williams.

"The 100m is like a choreographed dance and my athletes have to respond to the gun, go through their drive phase and then come out of that and maintain until the finish line.

"I coach young athletes, so maybe they will grow into having those sorts of powers where they can embrace the crowd, where everything else will come instinctively."

Coached by Ato Boldon: Briana Williams of Jamaica wins gold in the women's 100m at the IAAF World U20 Championships
Coached by Ato Boldon: Briana Williams of Jamaica wins gold in the women's 100m at the IAAF World U20 ChampionshipsCoached by Ato Boldon: Briana Williams of Jamaica wins gold in the women's 100m at the IAAF World U20 Championships

IDENTITY

In the documentary 'I Am Bolt', Ziggy Marley (son of reggae legend Bob Marley) talks about what he admires most about the sprint hero.

Instead of choosing his athleticism or all that he has achieved for the country of Jamaica, Ziggy picks out Bolt's ability to achieve consistently at the highest level while keeping his identity intact.

Going into the race in 2008, Bolt was already the fastest man in the world.

But the performance at the Olympic Games took his profile to another stratosphere.

"Not only did he not lose his identity, I think Bolt never lost any of exactly what he was, prior to 2008. He became a very fierce champion for Jamaica." - Ziggy Marley on Usain Bolt

"Some would argue that he is probably the second most popular Jamaican ever, behind Bob Marley. He really became an ambassador in every sense of the word, not just athletic."

That world record may no longer stand, but it will take some race to eclipse that night in Beijing.

LEGEND

Bolt's legendary exploits in 2008 cut across sporting boundaries.

Olympic Channel asked Olympians what they remembered about the race that shook the world.

Kevin Durant, basketball, two-time Olympic gold medallist

"I just remember seeing a freak of nature up close, and it was just amazing to see that because you know how much hard work goes into that.

"It was one of those moments that you will never forget. And one of those ones that I will be telling my kids (about) when I am old and grey. It was exciting."

Mikaela Shiffrin, alpine skiing, two-time Olympic gold medallist

"I was at my grandmother’s house in New Jersey and we were all watching together.

"I remember specifically thinking, 'She has no stockpile of cookies in her house'.

"And I was like, 'I want to snack on something as I watch this. Come on!'

“Normal moments watching the Olympics? I have them too.”

Warren Weir, sprinter, Olympic bronze medallist

"I was at home and I was in sixth form. And I remember that I had to wake up because it was the wee hours of the morning.

"That win just changed the whole energy of Jamaica. We were motivated to do anything we wanted to do.

"If you were just mowing the lawn, you were the best lawnmower.

"Everyone was so pumped. Like, my island has a world record that they said we couldn’t have."

Lolo Jones, hurdles and bobsleigh, three-time Olympian

"We couldn’t have had a better icon for all those years than him because he's great with fans, he's great with athletes and he's hilarious.

"Plus, he can dance."

Ato Boldon was this week’s big interview on the Olympic Channel Podcast. Each Wednesday we reach into the mind of someone to talk about the biggest Olympic talking points.

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