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O, the world’s fastest man!

Tariq Engineer

A blink of an eye for you and me, a lifetime for three men. 1/100ths of a second is all that separated first from second, and second from third in what was the fastest Olympic 100 meters final in history. American Justin Gatlin stole the show in 9.85 seconds (1/100th of a second outside the Olympic record if you are keeping track), but it so easily could have been Francis Obikwelu (Portugal), who finished second in 9.86 seconds. And then there’s Maurice Greene (U.S.), the self-proclaimed Greatest Of All Time. He finished third in 9.87 seconds, ending his bid to defend his 100-meter title. Had he been 1/100ths of a second faster, and Gatlin and Obikwelu 1/100ths of a second slower, Greene would have become only the second man after Carl Lewis to successfully defend an Olympic 100 meters title. So much for the Greatest of all Time.

1/100th of a second.

On any other day, at any other time we wouldn’t even notice 1/100ths of a second. Now Gatlin is the youngest 100-meter Olympic champion in 30-something years because of 1/100th of a second. Overshadowed in the buildup to the final by Greene, Crawford (Gatlin’s training partner) and Jamaican Asafa Powell, Gatlin ran the race of his life.

The finish was so close no one was sure who had won. Then Gatlin’s name went up on the scoreboard, and we had a new World’s Fastest Man. Moreover Gatlin, being just 22 years old, has every chance of doing what Greene failed to do – defending his title in Beijing four years from now. All because of 1/100ths of a second.

And 1/100ths of a second is all that kept Obikwelu from staging what would have been a huge upset. Even though there was no clear favorite before the race, Obikwelu wasn’t talked about as being among the gold medal contenders. Yet there he was at the finish, only 1/100ths of a second away from becoming Olympic Champion.

1/100th of a second.

It might not mean anything to you or me, but don’t mention that to Gatlin, Obikwelu, or Greene. 1/100th of a second changed their lives. Forever.

Written the day after the Men’s Olympic 100 meters final back in August.