Bolt crashes out
Who can beat Usain Bolt? we used to wonder.
Usually the response was "no-one". Only occasionally did someone say Usain Bolt himself. Never was the answer Jorge Salcedo.
Salcedo was the head of the IAAF technical commission that recommended, in August 2009, that the sport's current false-start rule be amended so that the first athlete to jump the gun would instantly be disqualified, rather than receiving a mere initial warning.
"Everyone will have ample time to change by the time of Daegu," said Lamine Diack, the governing body's president, with the sort of confidence that will now want to make him beat himself over the head with his own 255-page rulebook.
On Sunday morning Usain Bolt was 1/20 with bookmakers to win World 100m gold. It's not just that no-one saw his disqualification a few hours later coming. It's that no-one could even conceive of it.
This was a Buster Douglas moment, with some England 0-1 USA from 1950 thrown in and Don Bradman's final innings duck sprinkled on top.
False starts have seen off defending sprint champions in big finals before. Linford Christie did it twice in the Olympic final of 1996, but he was a champ with his brightest days behind him, not the greatest sprinter the world has ever seen.
Christie used to talk about going on the 'B' of the bang. On Sunday night, Bolt went on the 'O' of OMG.
As the world record holder and Olympic champion went to his blocks at just before 10pm local time he looked into the television cameras, pointed at the lanes to his right and left and shook his head dismissively.
It was classic Bolt, another act in the comedy-drama that has seen him dominate the sporting schedules since that extraordinary night in Beijing's Bird's Nest three summers ago. He crouched as the stadium fell silent, and we all shifted forward in our seats, ready for the performance that we now know so well - an explosion from the blocks, a streak of yellow and black, a glance at the clock and a roar of disbelief and adoration.
There was disbelief alright.
The champion didn't just twitch, or rise a fraction too early. He was gone by a stride, no replay nor electronic reading necessary, a Bolt shot so early that the millions watching around the world instantly knew a red card must surely follow.
Bolt is used to producing moments that make spectators grab the person next to them and throw their hands to their mouths in shock. Once again he delivered.
This time there was no clowning, no posing for the photographers waiting by the giant digital timer nest to the finish line. Bolt tore off his vest, staggered into the stadium tunnel and buried his head in the blue netting wall, those same photographers suddenly themselves sprinting the 100m straight in perfect reverse.
There were only two questions falling from everyone's wide-open jaws: how, and why?
The answer to the first can be found on page 127 of the IAAF's 2010-2011 regulations, under rule 162, section six:
"An athlete, after assuming a full and final set position, shall not commence his start until after receiving the report of the gun. If, in the judgement of the Starter or Recallers, he does so any earlier, it shall be deemed a false start."
Underneath sits Salcedo's all-important addition.
"162.7: From 1 January 2010, except in Combined Events, any athlete responsible for a false start shall be disqualified."
The answer to the second was rather harder to uncover.
Bolt didn't need to gamble on a flyer, any more than Bradman needed to try to hit his first ball from Eric Hollies for six. His key rivals, Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell, were both absent through injury. He is so much faster than the men remaining that he could have sat in his blocks and still won by a street. So what happened?
"It was the conscious part of his brain, not the subconscious part, that affected him," says Darren Campbell, World 100m bronze medallist in 2003 and here in Korea as an expert summariser for BBC Radio 5 live.
"The subconscious part of a sprinter's brain simply reacts to the starter's gun. It's the conscious part that would be shouting REACT! REACT! REACT! to him.
"In his semi-final he didn't get out that badly - the rhythm of the start was still there - but he didn't react well to the gun itself. That may have played on his mind.
"Maybe he was worried about the presence of his training partner Yohan Blake outside him, although on times and form he didn't need to.
"Maybe he had seen the false start Dwain Chambers had in the semi, or the one Christine Ohuruogu had on Saturday, and thought, oh, these are the false-start championships. But the starter did not hold them for too long, and it wasn't that noisy in the stadium.
"He only needed 9.91 seconds for the gold. But despite that, he was still thinking, 'I've got to react...'"
As with all shocking crimes, the next thought was to nail a perpetrator. Was it the IAAF's fault for instigating a rule which could allow their golden calf to be despoiled, putting the false gods of television schedules ahead of the integrity of the sport?
Was it Jon Drummond's fault for that infamous sulk at the 2003 Worlds, when he lay down in his lane and refused to leave the track after being disqualified himself? Should we blame the athletes who used to use the preceding rule - one false start allowed, next man to jump the gun is out regardless of his previous blame - as a tactic to unsettle opponents?
Drummond, Salcedo and the rest should be spared. You could blame the rule if you like, but mainly you have to blame Bolt.
"The other guys out there didn't beat Usain," says Campbell. "Usain beat himself."
Former world and Olympic 100m champion Maurice Greene has been warning anyone who would listen in Daegu this week that Bolt's cartoonish antics on the blocks would one day catch up with him.
You can get away with the high jinks if your confidence is rock-solid. When it starts to crumble, when self-doubt starts to nudge the elbow and nibble away at the corners, you cannot.
You want to feel sorry for someone? Maybe feel sorry for Blake, who became the event's youngest ever world champion but will still awake to race reports entirely about someone else.
Maybe feel sorry for Kim Collins, whose achievement in winning bronze at 35 years and 144 days old, eight years after he had produced another shock to win the World title in Paris, is the sort of fairy-story that deserves a more receptive audience.
Monday's headlines won't read 'Blake's Heaven', or 'Collins: Against All Odds'. They'll be 'Bolt Out of the Blue' and 'IN-SAIN', 'Usain Bolts Early' and maybe even 'BLUNDERBOLT'.
Bolt had talked about wanting to win this race so he could truly consider himself a legend of his sport. That he didn't was entirely down to him.