Lightning Bolt strikes again
AUG 6 — Of all the many events so far from the London Olympics to have thrilled the watching global audience, Usain Bolt’s sumptuous triumph in last night’s 100 metres final must rank as the most spectacular.
There have been plenty of memorable moments: for starters, American swimmer Michael Phelps bowing out of Olympic competition with another batch of medals to add to his record-breaking collection — he has now retired at the age of 27 with a total of 22 medals, including 18 golds — will certainly go down in sporting history.
The goal-filled progress of an exciting Brazilian football team has also been dazzling, while the combined athletic prowess of the star-studded American basketball squad — especially during their staggering 156-73 demolition of Nigeria last week — has been a sight to behold.
From a partisan and personal British point of view, an electrifying Saturday night in the Olympic Stadium will take some beating, with three gold medals won in the space of an hour: Mo Farah in the 10,000 metres, Greg Rutherford in the long jump and Jessica Ennis in the women’s heptathlon.
Andy Murray’s gold medal-winning victory over Roger Federer in the tennis final at Wimbledon — the first time the Scotsman has ever beaten the Swiss legend over five sets — was another special occasion, and could just end up kick-starting Murray’s career towards an overdue Grand Slam victory.
But there is simply something transcendental about the men’s 100 metres race that makes it the inevitable showpiece event in any major championships, mainly due to the fact that the action is condensed into such a short space of time — plus the knowledge that you are watching the fastest human beings ever to set foot upon the planet.
I was fortunate enough to be there in Berlin for the 2009 World Athletics Championships when Bolt broke — no, obliterated — the world records in both the 100 and 200 metres in displays of astonishing, effortless poise and power. Remember the images of Bolt finishing about ten metres ahead of the rest of the field? And the fact that he barely seemed to be trying? It was a superhuman display that truly made you draw breath in amazement at the extent of human capability.
The build-up to last night’s final was dominated by debate about whether Bolt would hold off the challenge of his Jamaican compatriot and training partner Yohan Blake, who had managed to achieve the unthinkable and beat Bolt on a couple of recent occasions (although one of those, last year’s World Championships in South Korea, was significantly assisted by Bolt’s disqualification for a false start).
Blake wasn’t the only contender, with former world record holder Asafa Powell — another Jamaican — and a pair of dangerous Americans in Tyson Gay and 2004 Olympic champion Justin Gatlin all looking in good shape in the build-up to the Olympics.
All the big names cruised through their initial heats and the semi-finals, with Gatlin recording the fastest time with an ominous 9.82 seconds. So the stage was set: Bolt, Blake, Powell, Gay, Gatlin... quite a formidable line-up for one of the most prestigious events in world sport.
Indeed, the world record (9.58 seconds, set by Bolt in Berlin three years ago) seemed to be under threat with a number of the qualifiers taking it easy and saving their energy during the latter stages of their semi-finals — especially Bolt, who practically jogged the last 20 metres of his semi.
At last, the waiting was over. At 9.50pm local time, the starting gun sounded. No false start. Gatlin, fierce and focussed, got off fast, then Powell. The five favourites were all in the mix until... until... Bolt fired the button. Bolt pressed go. Bolt hit the accelerator.
Usain Bolt the man turned into Lightning Bolt the living legend and the rest of the field didn’t stand a chance. In the last 40 metres, he simply streaked away from the pack, leaving everyone trailing in his wake. And still, there was a silent and calm serenity about his demeanour. Again, it didn’t look like he was even trying. They call it being in the zone. Apparently, Jesus walked on water; Usain Bolt could run on it.
Bolt cruised over the line with a winning time of 9.63 seconds — a new Olympics record and the second-fastest time in history. Blake made it a Jamaican one-two, with Gatlin hanging on for third. And Powell, so strong in the opening 30 metres, pulled up early with a heartbreaking injury.
All of this happened in less than 10 seconds. No wonder it’s the most eagerly anticipated event of any Olympics. And it’s impossible to begrudge Bolt his triumph, which surely makes him the second greatest track and field athlete of the last 50 years (after Carl Lewis) with four Olympics gold medals — and more surely to follow this week.
Although the public perception can often be very different from the private truth, every indication is that Bolt is a relaxed, approachable and simply very likeable man.
Yes, there’s a touch of arrogance (wouldn’t you be arrogant if you were the fastest thing on two legs?) but Bolt’s displays of flamboyance are always done with a smile on the face and a touch of humour, rather than the self-absorbed showmanship that can make the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo so unpleasant to a neutral.
Incidentally, mentioning Ronaldo reminds me that Bolt is also a big football fan, claiming allegiance to Ronaldo’s past and present clubs, Manchester United and Real Madrid. Oh dear. At least that proves nobody can be perfect!
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.