A new sprint star was born in the space of 20 days in 2011. His name? Yohan Blake. The 21-year-old Jamaican had gone into the year touted as a sprinting prodigy and the man most likely to succeed his training partner Usain Bolt. Looking ahead to 2012, Blake was viewed as the world record holder’s most likely threat to retaining his Olympic 100m crown in London. But delivery on such promise appeared a long way away and certainly not as soon as 2011. Yet in the space of three weeks in August and September Blake turned the world order on its head.
It all started on a breezy Sunday evening in South Korea and will most likely be remembered as the sporting shock of the year. The scene? The 100m final at the IAAF world championships in Daegu when Blake ended Bolt’s three-year reign of supremacy at championship level. It was a remarkable 100m final and the triumph of the pupil over the master – both men are coached by Glen Mills. As he had done when he won this title two years ago in Berlin, breaking the world record in the process, Bolt indulged in his characteristic showboating before the race but then lost his concentration committing a false-start.
Then, once the excitement among a stunned audience had died down, it was left to Blake, a member of the adidas-funded Racer’s Track Club, to sprint to victory in 9.92sec despite a headwind of 1.4 metres per second. Blake finished 0.16sec ahead of the second-placer in completing a victory which was “Boltesque” in its dominance.
Seven nights later – in fact, in the last event of the championships – Blake laid claim to the moniker “athlete of the championships” when he ran the third leg for the victorious Jamaica 4x100m team. Their winning time, 37.04sec, is a world record. Four days later, and after a 12-hour flight to Europe, Blake hit the ground sprinting again. This time it was at the Zurich Diamond League meeting where he left a world-class field trailing in his wake as he clocked a lifetime best 9.82sec. That was on the Thursday evening. By the end of the following Sunday, he’d repeated the performance – yet another 9.82sec – this time in Berlin and on the same stretch of track on which Bolt had broken the world record two years earlier.
Yet the most stunning performance of Blake’s remarkable 20 days was to come. Until the Diamond League meeting in Brussels, Blake had been regarded as a 100m specialist whose 200m potential was real but untapped and probably best left for another year. He is, after all, still a youngster. But in Brussels on September 16 he stepped well and truly out of the shadow cast by Bolt’s reputation. His winning time of 19.26sec in the Belgian capital is the second fastest ever clocked for the distance. And it could have been even faster. Blake’s reaction time was the slowest of the nine-man field and, remarkably, it was his first 200m race for four months. “Tonight I was aiming to run 19.5,” Blake said. “I was expecting something fast but not this fast. “The last 40 metres was crazy. I’m like a beast. I just take it out on the track. When I saw him (Usain Bolt) run 19.40 at the worlds I knew I could go fast like that. I am the man next to him next year. I’m looking forward to competing with him next year.”
So where has Blake come from? In terms of his development he is still in his formative years. But the record showed going into 2011 that Blake had already gone toe-to-toe with the globe’s greatest sprinters and demonstrated that he is mature beyond his years. He is mentally tough going into the race and, when the gun fires, is explosive out of the blocks.
He went into this season having already clocked six legal sub 10-second times for 100 metres, and burst into 2011 with the fastest season’s opener since Bolt in the last Olympic year. A following wind of 2.2 metres per second was just in excess of the legal limit but did little to soften the impact of Blake’s 9.80sec at the Jamaica Invitational in Kingston on May 7. It delivered a clear message to the sprinting fraternity – that Blake was the future of the discipline. Blake, who is a member of the adidas Next Generation project, revels on the big stage. But like many of the world’s elite performers he had come face-to-face with bitter disappointment. His came three years ago when he went to the IAAF world junior championships in Bydgoszcz as the outstanding favourite to win gold at the 100 metres. Two years earlier in Beijing, when he was just 16, he had finished third. But in the Polish town, after a smooth passage through the qualifying rounds, he was slow out of the blocks in the final and missed out on the medals altogether. Within 12 months, though, Blake was sprinting half-a-second faster and leaving not only the bad memories of Bydgoszcz behind him but his rivals too. In Rome on July 10 2009, he scorched to 9.96sec to finish third behind fellow adidas sprinter Tyson Gay. Blake was just 19 years and 197 days. No one younger has ever broken 10 seconds. Then one week later in Paris he went faster still – this time to 9.93sec – behind Bolt. Much of the credit for Blake’s development can be given to his coach Glen Mills whose Jamaica-based Racers’ Club is one of two adidas-funded programmes – the other being in Florida. The Racers’ Club offers an environment in which tomorrow’s stars can live, eat and train alongside the Olympic and world champions of today.
Under Mills’ tutelage, Blake stepped up another gear in 2010 clocking a further four legal sub 10-second times with the headline performance coming in the most remarkable sprint race of the season on a cold, wet and blustery August evening in London. Conditions aside, the Crystal Palace track has a reputation for being one of the slowest on the circuit so hopes were not high of a special performance. But with Gay blitzing to a stunning 9.78sec, Blake ensured it was something other than a one-man show as he broke another career-defining barrier in second place. Blake’s time of 9.89sec into a headwind was stunning and suggested there was more to come.
Away from the track Blake shares the sort of sporting passions that are typical of a young Jamaican. He is a keen cricketer and takes every available opportunity to catch up with the sport at which the West Indies are past world champions. Indeed, in a charity game in Jamaica last October, he claimed the prized wicket of Chris Gayle who is one of the game’s most powerful and stylish batsmen. The wicket fell when Gayle mistimed a back-foot drive off Blake’s bowling offering a straightforward chance to the mid-off fielder. And who was the player fielding at mid-off? None other than Usain Bolt.
Facts and figures
Born: December 26 1989, St James, Jamaica world 100m champion world all-time No.2 at 200m and, along with his Jamaican teammates, holder of the 4x100m world record. At 19 years and 197 days he is the youngest man to have ever broken the 10-second barrier for 100m lifetime bests – 100m: 9.82sec (2011); 200m: 19.26sec (’11)
Timeline – Blake’s 20-day rise to stardom
August 28 he wins world 100m title in Daegu, clocking 9.92sec into a 1.4m/sec wind
September 4 Blake runs the third leg for Jamaica as they take gold and break the world record for the 4x100m in Daegu
September 8 scorches to 100m victory at the prestigious Zurich meeting on a windless night in 9.82sec
September 11 repeats his Zurich performance in Berlin with another win in 9.82sec
September 16 stuns Brussels with the second fastest ever 200m, 19.26sec
The world’s 10 fastest ever 200m runs
19.19 Usain Bolt Berlin, August 2009
19.26 Yohan Blake Brussels, September 2011
19.30 Bolt Beijing, August 2008
19.32 Michael Johnson, Atlanta, August 1996
19.40 Bolt Daegu, September 2011
19.53 Walter Dix Brussels, September 2011
19.56 Bolt Kingston, May 2010
19.57 Bolt Brussels, September 2009
19.58 Tyson Gay New York, May 2009
19.59 Bolt Lausanne, July 2009
Born: 26 December 1989 St. James, Jamaica
Height: 5ft 11inches (1.8 meters)
Weight: 76 kg (168 lb)