Rio Olympics: Usain Bolt rarely complains about going too fast. After the rushed road to Sunday night’s 100-meter final, he had to make an exception.
Faced with a turnaround time of barely over an hour between the semifinal and final, Bolt had trouble gearing up to be at his best for the marquee event of the Olympics.
He won his record-setting third straight gold medal , but his post-race comments were tinged with slams about the scheduling.
“I don’t know who decided that,” Bolt said. “It was really stupid. So, that’s why the race was slow. There’s no way you can run and go back around and run fast times again.”
It was a decision made with broadcasters in mind more than runners. In the recent past, 100-meter sprinters have been given more than two hours between semifinals and finals.
“It’s the first time I’ve had to jog to the warmup area to get ready for the final,” Bolt said.
He said after the semifinal, he felt great. I was like ‘Yo, I probably could run a fast time,'” he said.
For him, “fast” often equates to something in the world-record range of 9.58 seconds. And “slow” would qualify as the 9.81-second time he ran to win Sunday’s gold medal. It wasn’t among the 10 fastest times he’s ever put on the board.
He wasn’t the only one complaining.
American Justin Gatlin, the silver medalist, said the quick turnaround sapped his strength so much, he couldn’t even think about winning.
“I didn’t because I was tired going into the finals and I was just like ‘let me focus on what I need to focus on,'” he said. “We really only had 30 minutes to get ready for the finals.”
Track’s governing body, the IAAF, sets the schedule and the International Olympic Committee signs off on it. “If they’re happy, we’re happy,” said IOC spokesman Mark Adams.
In the most widely cited case of schedule shifting, the opening round of the women’s 200 was moved from Monday evening to the day session at the request of one of America’s best-known athletes, Allyson Felix, who wanted to try for gold medals both the 200 and the 400. The 400 final is Monday night.
It was considered a win-win for the Olympics and NBC, which pays the most sizable chunk of the USD 4.1 billion in worldwide broadcast rights the IOC received for the 2014 and 2016 Olympics.
Felix hurt her ankle in the spring and was not at full health at Olympic Trials. She made the field for the 400 but not the 200.
Less publicized was the decision to push the starting time of the night sessions back to 8:30 p.m. local time, which, in turn, put Bolt and Co., on TV smack in the middle of prime time in the United States. A late start also means a compressed schedule.
Asked whether NBC had a role in the scheduling, communications vice president Chris McCloskey said “the IOC and international federations make the schedule.”
Chris Turner of the IAAF said the tight schedule has been used in the past — most notably, at the Atlanta Games in 1996, when Donovan Bailey won gold and set a world record.
“We’ll, of course, take the athletes’ views on board,” Turner said. “In fact, we will actively seek them at every major championship.”
They didn’t have to look too hard in this case.
“I wasn’t pleased,” Bolt said, in answer to the first question he was asked at the winner’s news conference. “That’s never good. You need time to recover, especially as I’m getting older. I’m not happy with the schedule, and hopefully, they’ll change it back.”
Some good news for those looking for records: There’s no back-to-back racing in the 200 meters, which has its first round Tuesday, semifinals Wednesday and the final on Thursday.
And Bolt says he’s feeling so good, he’s looking to lower his world record, which stands at 19.19 seconds.
“If I can get good night’s rest after the semifinals, it’s a possibility I can do it,” Bolt said. “That’s something I really want.”