Yohan Blake celebrates winning the men's 100m final at the World Athletics championships in Daegu. Source: Getty Images
Sprinter Yohan Blake says his biggest breakthrough has come ahead of schedule
By Rick Broadbent
From: The Australian
September 03, 2011
ON an orange bus in the shadow of the stadium that he shocked stands a man with a gold medal.
He is the unexpected hero and, although he is Jamaican, he knows his success is tinged with a mourning song.
"I spoke to my parents and they were very happy," Yohan Blake said as he reflected on a staggering 100m final of the World Athletics Championships at Daegu, South Korea, on Sunday. "But my father was a bit upset because I beat Usain Bolt."
To some, though, he did not. Bolt's disqualification for a false start sparked a global debate about the merits of the zero-tolerance rule and the nascent fragility of PT Barnum in spikes.
Almost forgotten in this stampede of opinion was that there was a new world champion, the youngest there has been, a man even Bolt had labelled the future.
Bolt, 25, was more generous than some commentators. He trains with the 21-year-old Blake at Racers Track & Field Club at the University of the West Indies' Kingston campus in Jamaica.
They have shared an apartment block at the World Championships. As Bolt struggled to come to terms with his inability to run in Sunday's final, he made sure he was a magnanimous Magi.
"It's a family at Racers and Usain Bolt is our leader," Blake said. "Afterwards he told me 100 times he was glad for me. He has always called me Junior in the past, but now he has changed that. He's calling me Big Man now."
Bolt has been criticised here, as he was at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 when he first threw the sporting world off its axis by winning the sprint double.
Back then it was Jacques Rogge, the IOC president, who fatuously reacted to one of sport's most jaw-dropping feats by wondering whether Bolt should have shaken hands with all his competitors before indulging in a showboating love-in with his congregation. This time people asked why he skipped interviews and whether his pre-race theatrics hampered his preparation more than anyone else's.
Glen Mills, the ursine coach of both Bolt and Blake, said the preening and posturing on the start line was never likely to rattle the younger man. "What he does will not affect Yohan," Mills said.
"He is used to it and has a much stronger mind. He will never be psyched by anyone at the start."
Instead, the question emerging from the rumour mill since Sunday is whether Blake actually got to Bolt. Video replays showed Blake's left leg moving slightly and the theory went that this set off Bolt. Under the IAAF's Rule 162, the starter could warn or disqualify any athlete who was responsible for the false start. The immediate conclusion to this opportunist thinking was that Blake should have been the man red-carded and thus preserved in relative anonymity.
"It was a normal reaction for me," Blake insisted in his first newspaper interview since his 9.92-second run into history. "Sometimes I am there and flinching. Usain Bolt was excited and ready to run and, I think, could not wait to get down into the blocks. It was nothing to do with me."
The idea that beneath the braggadocio the coolest man in sport was rattled is more intriguing than the flinching debate. Mills tried to quash that notion, suggesting Bolt was ready to run a sub-9.7sec time after a summer of gentle sniping about toned-down brilliance.
"You can't maintain that razor edge all year around and you have to control the peaks and the valleys," Mills said. "Our preparation this year was to peak at the World Championships and we were happy with his progress. He ran six races and won all of them. In the rounds here he was a totally different person.
"Before the season's out he will be at the razor's edge and demonstrate that."
Blake's age makes him a fascinating subject. Some people will argue that his triumph was fortunate, but as Mills pointed out, starting is part of the race too.
Blake's best time is only 9.89sec, modest against the mind-boggling feats of modern times, but the windy 9.80sec he ran in Kingston in May was a passport to the future. The confusion has come because Bolt's weakness has vaulted Blake from that future to the present.
"I'm ahead of schedule," Blake said. "Next year is my coming-out year and the year after that I'll be ready."
He also revealed that Bolt had helped him even before the false start. "We're very good friends and when we come to the line it is business, but he has helped me so much in training in Daegu. He kept saying that I needed to stay focused. He kept saying, you can do this. Trust me, this is what I've dreamt and prayed about since I watched him on the podium in Beijing."
For Mills, this 100m final will always be associated with mixed emotions, but he knows Bolt was found wanting in the focus he had asked of Junior. "Usain still has his place and there won't be a problem with him sharing the spotlight with Yohan," he said.
"He is used to his ups and down, even before he became Olympic champion. He is disappointed, but he knows the show must go on. He must now look to the future and London and surpass what he has done before."
Back at Bogue Hill in Jamaica, the Blake family has been coming to terms with instant fame. Yohan's father, Shirley, had said a pre-race prayer. "I lay down on the bed and I said, God, you see that he is really trying, so just give him the strength to pull through."
It worked, but if some people are intent on always placing an asterisk next to his title, others will have blacker marks. Blake is affable until mention of his three-month ban for testing positive to a stimulant in 2009. He was cleared by the Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission because methylxanthine is not on the banned list, but the commission appealed against its own panel's finding, reasoning that it was similar to a substance that was banned. "Nobody brings that up," Blake says definitively.
Mills is more expansive. "It's annoying because the press keep building it up, but he never took any performance-enhancing substance," he said. "It's a substance that is in all energy drinks, and since then there have been about 40 more cases. It's time to differentiate between someone taking something in a cold medicine and someone taking hard steroids."
As for the false start rule, both Blake and Mills are happy enough. Go back to the old one, with one false start for the whole field, and countries with more than one runner in a race will manipulate it to get a rival excluded, Mills says. "What is to stop someone sacrificing themselves to get an opponent out?" he said.
For the moment, though, forget the buts and accept that the man on the sponsors' bus has arrived. His victory may have come couched in caveats and his father may not like it, but he is, as the expert witness said, the Big Man.