The world's fastest man is now the world's first athlete to own the new Omega Olympic athletic starting blocks in advance of the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Ten seconds past 7:45 p.m. London time on Aug. 5, 2012, the world will learn the final eight participants for the men’s 100-meter Olympic final which promises to feature the fastest lineup in Olympic history. The conclusion of the 100-meter semifinal, figures to begin a two-hour and five-minute countdown before reigning Olympic champion Usain Bolt will place his Pumas in the blocks and assume the set position in hopes of repeating as the gold medalist.
But it is the new Omega Olympic starting blocks which last month drew discontent from Jamaica’s dual world record holder, with post Oslo Diamond League Meeting race reports crediting Usain Bolt’s believed “shorter” block size to be the source of his dissatisfaction.
Apparently, after suffering defeat to fellow countrymen and training partner Yohan Blake in the 100 and 200 meter events at Jamaica’s Olympic trials, any anticipated concerns or dissatisfaction with starting blocks at the more critical Olympic juncture are being readily addressed and may have begun to wane. Omega Timing Board Member Peter Hurzeler has informed The Fast Life that Usain Bolt has become the first athlete to purchase the new athletics starting block system from Omega. (Jamaica does not use the Omega starting blocks at their Olympic trials.)
In the weeks prior to the Jamaican trials, Hurzeler said that Bolt and his management team contemplated temporarily obtaining the new blocks gratis strictly for testing and return purposes to which Omega was not agreeable. Following the trials, Hurzeler said they received word from Bolt’s management that “he would buy one as soon as possible.”
“The next day we had the money in the bank and we sent it to him, to London for testing,” Hurzeler said. Bolt is managed by the UK-based Pace Sports Management.
Omega’s new athletics starting blocks were introduced this season and utilized in all Diamond League Meets, for which Omega is also the official timekeeper, and will make their Olympic Games debut in London 2012. Citing athlete displeasure with old blocks due to 5mm of movement, as explained by Hurzeler, the mechanical engineer closely associated with Omega timekeeping efforts for the last 16 Olympic Games states that, “After several years of development we found the solution that the new block…is absolutely fixed…is really stable and not moving at all.”
After Bolt's post-trials admission of “needing to work on the first part of his race” to win, it is an astute decision by Bolt and his management to gain as much practice working with the actual blocks he will be inserting his UK size 13 spikes into on the night of Aug. 5, especially after scratching from the July 20 Diamond League Meeting in Monaco -- the final race opportunity for Bolt to execute his start from the new blocks before the Olympics.
Prior to the 100-meter world record holder’s withdrawal from Monaco, Hurzeler did extend a “proposal” to Bolt to “talk to him about it [and] see what’s different, what [he is] not liking.” Regardless of the discussion, the Omega timekeeper reinforces the fact that Bolt will “have to use this block in the Olympic Games, it’s no question about it.”
Per Omega, the specifications of the blocks are as follows:
The runners' reaction times are measured entirely by the measurement of force against the back block and not by movement. The new blocks can detect the reaction times of every runner – from children through world-class sprinters – without changing any settings on the device.
The central bar is thinner than that of the previous device allowing better starting positions for women and children. It has been reduced from 80 to 50 mm. The foot rest is now wider, having been expanded from 120 to 160 mm, allowing different starting positions. --courtesy of Omega’s London 2012 Press package.
An additional innovation of the new starting blocks model includes a new false start detection system that replaces “movement” with “measurement” to gauge sprinters’ reaction times. “With our system we can also measure how much [the athlete] is pushing when he leaves the block,” said Hurzeler, who conducted an extensive test last year during the Lausanne Grand Prix with the world’s most sub-10 runner and Bolt challenger, Jamaica’s Asafa Powell, who held the 100-meter world record prior to Bolt.
“We did this with Asafa Powell and he was pushing 240 kgs,” Hurzeler said. “I made [Bolt] an offer to do this with him and watch if maybe his start is perfect or not and so on, but now he is not participating in Monaco.”
When asked if there’s a competitive advantage to owning a personal version of the Omega blocks, Hurzeler said, “No, because you see [the athletes] have enough time; they are there three or four days before ... and they kind of test the whole thing and we are there if they have questions.” After Bolt’s false start disqualification from last season’s world championship 100-meter final in Daegu under the “one-and-done” policy instituted by the IAAF in 2010, Hurzeler surmises perhaps the ownership of the blocks may just be to garner a psychological reassurance leaving no race detail unfamiliar come the Olympic final.
The four-year culmination, now just days from that Olympic final, perched on the precipice of history which would transform Bolt from “Lightning into Legend,” Jamaica’s dual world record holder aims to become the second man after American Carl Lewis to repeat as Olympic 100-meter champion, but the first man to “cross-the-line-first” in successive Olympic Games.
At the 1988 Seoul Games, Canadian Ben Johnson’s 9.79 world-record breaking, albeit brief, first place performance was rescinded three days later after a doping conviction. That retroactively awarded Lewis his second consecutive Olympic gold medal in the 100.
And for the athlete whose net worth Forbes estimates to be $20.3 million in 2012, exactly how much would he pay to be the owner of his personal Olympic Games blocks? A mere 4,800 CHF (Swiss Franc) states Hurzeler, the U.S. equivalent of approximately $4,910.
Quite the return on investment should the sport’s biggest star again prove victorious on the world’s grandest stage.
The Omega athletic starting blocks are openly available for purchase by any athlete or organization.
Calls to Bolt's management were not immediately returned.
Photo courtesy Levon Biss