It was supposed to be Tyson Gay’s evening.
Many in the crowd of about 6,000 at Icahn Stadium in New York City, who had already endured a pair of thunderstorm delays, expected the American and reigning world champion to run away with the 100-metre title in the final event of the fourth Reebok Grand Prix.
But May 31, 2008 will forever be remembered in track circles as the night a young, tall and lanky Usain Bolt, racing the 100 for just the fifth time, shattered fellow Jamaican Asafa Powell’s world record with a time of 9.72 seconds.
The six-foot-five sprinter, who needed much work on his starts and seemed better suited for the 200 and even the 400, broke perfectly out of the blocks on a still night, created a huge gap between himself and Gay and blasted down the straightaway to set the sporting world abuzz ahead of the Beijing Olympics.
“People who didn’t know how his training was going in Jamaica didn’t believe the time,” says former Canadian sprinter Donovan Bailey of the then 21-year-old Bolt, whose silver behind Gay at the world championships the previous fall in Osaka, Japan served as a wake-up call. “The fact Tyson Gay was in that [Reebok] race showed that Bolt was going to be something very special.”
Nine years later, with 19 major championships to his name and an undefeated run at the Olympics in the 100, 200 and 4×100 relay — Bolt was later stripped of his 2008 relay medal because of doping by a teammate — the 30-year-old is retiring at end of the world championships in London, England, on Aug. 13. Bolt is also scheduled to run the 4×100 relay heats Aug. 12 at 5:55 a.m. ET, with the final slated for 4:50 p.m.
Bolt finished third in his 100 swan song on Saturday, close behind Americans Justin Gatlin and Christian Coleman.
“Bolt’s going to be remembered as the greatest sprinter that ever lived,” says Bailey, a former world-record holder who won the Olympic 100 at Atlanta in 1996 and the world title the year before.
‘The great thing with Usain Bolt is he fell into great coaching, so his talent was exceptional from Day 1.’
— Former Olympic 100m champion Donovan Bailey
A native of Manchester, Jamaica, Bailey remembers Bolt doing “phenomenal” things as a schoolboy, long before a monster stride helped him reshape the record book.
In 2002, a 15-year-old Bolt won gold in the 200 and silver in the 4×100 and 4×400 at the junior championships in Kingston, Jamaica, and two years later became the first junior to…