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Meet the man who beat Usain Bolt at the Olympics

USA TODAY USA TODAY 17/08/2016 Martin Rogers

Athletics - Final - Men's 100m Final: Usain Bolt of Jamaica runs to win the gold, ahead of Justin Gatlin of the U.S. taking silver and Andre De Grasse of Canada taking bronze. Usain Bolt wins the 100m How can Usain Bolt be beaten and stopped from carving an even heftier slice of Olympic history? How can he be prevented from crossing the line first in his signature event, the 200 meters?

The question is almost laughable, as miraculous perhaps as turning water into wine or getting politicians to admit they are wrong. How to beat Bolt at the Olympics? Who knows?

Well, Rondel Sorrillo does. Sorrillo, from Trinidad and Tobago, did it in Beijing in 2008, in Bolt’s signature 200 no less. He did it in the heats, of course, which meant that ultimately it counted for nothing. Still, it still has earned him a spot as a footnote in history.

“It really did happen,” Sorrillo, 30, laughed on Tuesday, after clinching his own spot in the Rio semifinals. “Oh yes, people remember me for it.”

For a start, it is the only time Bolt has failed to win an Olympic race, in any round, since he was an injured teenager. Bolt ran at Athens in 2004, age 17, but was hampered by a back strain and lost in the heats.

All four men who finished ahead of him back then are retired, so Sorrillo —  who won the 2010 NCAA 200 title at the University of Kentucky — is the only current athlete to have handed Bolt defeat at the Games.

It was in Beijing’s Bird’s Nest stadium on Aug. 18, 2008, exactly eight years before this Games’ 200 final. Sorrillo took the heat in 20.58, with Bolt coming second in 20.64.

“I remember being really green in the sport,” Sorrillo said, admitting that when it happened he had no idea how significant such a result might be seen to be in later years. “I was just running for my life. It is water under the bridge now. (Bolt) and I are pretty cordial, we talk. I don’t remember that much about it.”

Sure he does. It is impossible that he has forgotten because he is simply not allowed to. Trinidad and Tobago is a nation of just 1.3 million people, small enough that the whole 6 degrees of separation thing is more like 3 degrees there. Everyone knows everyone, or close enough.

Trinidad and Tobago's Rondel Sorrillo. © Jae C. Hong, AP Trinidad and Tobago's Rondel Sorrillo. And they know Sorrillo as the man who beat Bolt, and also as the man who perhaps wasn’t able to fully capitalize on it afterward.

“I hear about it quite often,” he added. “It happens and gets mentioned a lot more when I am back home. To me it was like any other race, I didn’t put that much thought to it. Mostly people just joke about it.”

That was as good as it got for Sorrillo in Beijing. He finished fourth in the next round to narrowly miss out on the semis. Bolt went on the shatter the world record, became a global icon in the process, and so far, has not lost another Olympics race. It would be a surprise if he ever did so again.

Sorrillo will be a long shot to make the 200 final going into Wednesday night’s semifinals. He is a fine runner and he has had a good career, but track is a sport where only the very fastest make big money and get serious attention. He got to the semifinals of the 100 in London, but not further.

Retirement beckons soon, and he will soon be left with his memories, including one unique one.

“Yeah,” he said, “I guess it is pretty cool that I beat him.”


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