Did Yohan Blake just make it seem dopey to watch track?
His startling 200 time raises the same old questions
Usain Bolt (l) congratulates Yohan Blake after Blake's stunning race Friday in Brussels. (Francois Lenoir / Reuters / December 16, 2013)
That doesn't seem like such a risky statement after watching Blake run the 200 in Friday's Diamond League finale at Brussels.
Blake, still just 21 years old, had a horrible start Friday, a poor first 100 meters and a finish so incredible he dusted Walter Dix even though Dix ran the second fastest time ever, 19.53 seconds, by a U.S. runner. Only Michael Johnson (19.32) has run faster.
Blake ran the second fastest time ever by any runner, 19.26, a clocking beaten only by Bolt's 19.19 at the 2009 world meet. (For video, click here)
(This being track and field, a sport determined to kill itself by doing whatever possible not to please spectators, Bolt and Blake did not run against each other in Brussels. Bolt won the 100 in 9.76, the world's best time this season. Video)
Before getting back to Blake, a few words on Galen Rupp. He pared more than 11 seconds off the U.S. record in the 10,000 by finishing third in 26 minutes, 48.0 seconds. Olympic champion Kenenisa Bekele won in 26:43.16, best in the world this season.
Rupp, 25, who was seventh at worlds, beat his old personal best by 22.74 seconds.
That's a 1.3 percent improvement.
Why is the percentage important?
Because Blake improved his personal best in the 200 by 2.4 percent -- and by a startling 6.4 percent in the past two seasons.
(Rupp's personal best before 2010 dates to 2007. His 2010 time was 1.4 percent better than the earlier PB.)
So, yes, I am going to raise the could-doping-be-involved specter on Blake, and someone is going to say that is racist (Blake is black; Rupp, white) or jingoist (Jamaica vs. USA).
I would answer: look at the numbers.
In the 200, Blake has dropped from 20.60 to 19.78 to 19.26 in two seasons.
Bolt went from a world junior record 19.93 in 2004 (at age 17) to 19.75 in 2007 (after breaking 20 in each of the intervening years) to his first world record of 19.30 in 2008, when his personal best dropped by 2.3 percent.
There have, of course, also been doping suspicions about Bolt, who never has tested positive (for what that's worth, as Marion Jones proved.)
Bolt's big percentage drop (5.6 percent) came with a personal best of 20.58 -- pedestrian by elite standards -- in 2002. It's much harder to go faster once the times get to 20-low and lower.
(To be fair, it should be noted Dix went from 20.25 to 19.69 in one season -- a drop of 2.7 percent. He then leveled off for two seasons before improving his PB by only 0.8 percent Friday.)
In 2009, just before the world championships, Blake tested positive for a prohibited stimulant. The penalty in force at the time for the substance in question was two years, although it fell in a category of substances that allowed for reduced penalties (or a mere warning) if the athlete could demonstrate it was not intended to enhance performance.
After first being exonerated on an (incorrect) technicality, Blake wound up with a three-month ban from Jamaica's Anti-Doping Commission, an organization with the deserved reputation of being a fox guarding the henhouse because it does so few unannounced, out-of-competition tests.
But it's easy to make numbers fit any scenario one wants.
Bolt, for instance, lowered his PR in the 100 by 3.4 percent in one year, going from 10.03 in 2007 to a world record 9.69 in 2008. In his defense, Bolt had been strictly a 200-meter specialist until running his first 100 in 2007.
While Blake largely was focusing on the 100, he also had been running the 200 regularly for six seasons.
Blake's time in Brussels has not gone unnoticed. James Carter, a two-time U.S. Olympic hurdler, tweeted Friday, "I think Blake just tested the new juice for next year. . .Looks like it works. . .Get ready London."
(In case you need a translation, "juice" is a banned performance-enhancer.)
So where were we? Oh, yes, the idea that Blake would have beaten Bolt in the 100 at the worlds in Daegu, South Korea.
Blake won that race in 9.92 seconds, running into a headwind. Last week in Zurich, he ran a personal best 9.82 with no wind. Bolt ran 9.76 Friday with a tailwind that, when factored in, makes his time about the same as Blake's personal best.
So the answer about Daegu is: based on what each has done this season, there is very little to separate Blake and Bolt -- who are in the same training group -- in the 100.
Maybe that's why Bolt felt getting a fast start was so important it led him to false start.
Or, dare I say, maybe what Blake did Friday is just another of the falsehoods that have undermined track and field for some three decades.