This is the year of the sprinter, and no one has personified it more than Ato Boldon.
The brash and brilliant Boldon bolted to the year’s fastest time and the fifth-fastest ever in the 100 meters Saturday, clocking 9.87 seconds at the World Championships.
Bolden’s sensational time was the fastest ever in a second-round heat and set up an all-out assault on the year-old world record of 9.84 in today’s semifinals and final.
“I probably ran faster than I wanted,” the confident Boldon said, “but I don’t think it took that much out of me. What I’ve done is put a lot of pressure on myself.
“I’ll send a message (tonight) as to who’ll be the world’s fastest human.”
The title of world’s fastest human currently belongs to Canada’s Donovan Bailey, but it doesn’t appear he will be a factor in the final after appearing to injure his left calf while finishing second in his heat in 10.10.
Boldon has predicted that the world record will dip to 9.79, but hedged on that figure Saturday.
“There’s still a big difference between 9.79 and 9.87,” said the 23-year-old from Trinidad and Tobago, who trains in Los Angeles with sprint guru John Smith. “My dream is to run under 9.80, but certainly I would be happy with 80 or 81.”
Smith also tutors Maurice Greene, the U.S. champion, who finished second to Boldon in his heat in 9.90, the third time he has hit that mark this season.
The sub-10 second clockings by Boldon and Greene, plus 9.99s by two other heat winners, Frankie Fredericks of Namibia and Tim Montgomery of the United States, brought the year’s total to 22 - the most ever in one season.
A third Smith protege, Jon Drummond, the U.S. 200-meter champion, watched Boldon’s race and predicted: “He’s going to break the record tomorrow.”
Boldon appeared to even have a shot at the record Saturday. After blazing down the track with a powerful mid-race acceleration, he slowed slightly at the finish line after having passed Greene and assured of a win.
“This track is lightning fast,” he said. “It didn’t feel that fast. I thought it was 9.95.”
Greene was not dismayed at finishing behind his training partner.
“I know how fit I am and how fast I can run,” he said. “That was very easy for me. What counts is tomorrow.”
The women’s 100 final appears to be a battle among Jamaica’s Merlene Ottey, U.S. champion Marion Jones and the Ukraine’s unheralded Zhanna Pintussevich.
Pintussevich upstaged her more renowned foes by running the fastest time in the second-round heats, 10.90, matching the second-fastest time of the year.
Two finals were held Saturday on the first competition day of the championships, and the gold medals went to Ukraine’s Aleksandr Bagach in the men’s shot put at 70 feet, 5-1/4 inches, and Mexico’s Daniel Garcia in the 20-kilometer walk in 1:21:43.
Bagach’s victory spoiled John Godina’s chance of becoming the first wild card winner in the meet. Godina, the 1995 world champion, failed to make the U.S. team this year but was given a free pass into the championships by the sport’s world governing body.
He finished second at 70 4-1/2.