Olympics 2012: Athletics – Sprints and Relays

This is the first in a series of posts giving my thoughts on the 2012 Olympic Games.

I’m starting with athletics, the centrepiece of the Games.

The men’s sprints were of course dominated by Usain Bolt who became the first man to defend the 100m and 200m titles. Coming into the Games I really wan’t convinced that Bolt would win. Yohan Blake had beaten him in the Jamaican Trials and had shown last year that he could rise to the big occasion. After the 100m semis when Bolt looked imperious I changed my mind and it was no surprise that he won. I still don’t think that Bolt is quite at his best, if he had been the world record would have gone because the track in the Olympic stadium was super fast. I reckon the track was worth between 0.1 to 0.2 seconds in a 100m race. One area that Bolt has really improved is his start. He gets into his running very quickly now and even with a cautious reaction in the 100m, following last year’s disqualification in the world championships, he didn’t give much away in the first 30 metres.

Bolt’s injury earlier in the season made the endurance needed for the 200m an unknown but again he got a great start in the final and although Blake closed him down he never looked like losing. Jamaica took a clean sweep of the medals but Christophe Lemaitre may have got amongst them if he hadn’t had such a bad lane draw. He is so tall that he really struggled with the tight turn in lane 2.

In the 400m Kirani James showed again what an exciting talent he is. I don’t remember seeing someone look like he is sprinting at the end of a fast 400m like James does. I think that with a little luck he can break the world record as he matures. He already judges pace well which is crucial in the 400m.

The women’s sprints were a battle between the USA and Jamaica. I was a little surprised when Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce retained her title in the 100m but she obviously came to the Games in great shape as she showed with a great 200m. One notable thing about the 100m was the presence of two very good long-jumpers who have made the transition to sprinting. In the 200m Allyson Felix finally added the Olympic title to the string of world championships she has at the distance. She is the most elegant 200m runner I have ever seen and just flows beautifully on the track. I thought after her semi that she would go under 21.50 but I think she was a little tense for the final and didn’t quite have the fluidity she normally does.

The 400m saw another long-awaited coronation with Sanya Richards-Ross a deserving winner. She judged the pace much better than in some of the big races earlier in her career and it was a good job she did as Christine Ohuruogu finished strongly as ever. Christine always runs her own race and is superb at blocking out the fast starts of other runners.

The relays were really fast with world records going in both 4x100m relays. As I mentioned earlier the track made a big difference to the sprint times. In a 4x100m I think it may have been as much as 0.6 or 0.7 seconds. After the semi-final of the women’s race,when the Americans with half a reserve team ran very fast, I thought that the World record would go in the final but to take half a second off it was a real surprise to me. After that it was no surprise that with decent changes Jamaica did the same even without Asafa Powell, who was injured in the 100m final.

It is strange how poor American 400m running has become. They have dominated the event for decades and even a few years ago looked untouchable. This time they had nobody in the 400m final and lost the relay to the Bahamas. The power shift really appears to have gone to the Caribbean at the moment. No such problems with the USA’s women who cruised to victory in the 4x400m giving Allyson Felix three golds at the Games. One day she is going to give the 400m a real go and could well win individual gold there.

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