The Olympics is the stage on which some of human kind's greatest achievements are set, often mirroring the daily struggle of ordinary people, sometimes they surpass our greatest expectations. Usain Bolt did just that when he won gold in the 100 and 200 m finals in Beijing proving that the fastest man who ever lived, lives in our time.
Although clear favourite to take gold, no one could have envisioned the jaw-dropping display of sheer power and speed by the Jamaican. His performance offered a much needed shot in the arm for world athletics and sport in general.
The men’s 100m final is probably the Olympics' most anticipated event and watched by an estimated 3.5 billion people. The 21-year old Jamaican Bolt, was the world record holder and had sailed through the heats to qualify for the final. But when he exploded out of the blocks he was clear of the field after 70 metres. With 15 metres to go Bolt slowed to celebrate with what has become the iconic image of the Beijing Olympics. Bolt with open arms and thumping his chest in celebration before he won with a world and olympic record of 9.69.
Kriss Akabusi, a former sprinter and current pundit criticised Bolt's chest slapping before the finish line as ‘showboating’ noting that the actions cost Bolt an even faster record time. IOC president Jacques Rogge also condemned the Jamaican's actions as disrespectful. Bolt denied that this was the purpose of his mid-race celebration by saying "I wasn't bragging. When I saw I wasn't covered, I was just happy.”
This audacious act made the image of Bolt crossing the line iconic. So controversy followed as the sometimes high-brow ideals of the Olympic Committee can sometimes be at odds with the youthful exuberance of the competitors but that celebration will remain forever.
While commentating on the race for a television network American legend Michael Johnson described as "the greatest 100m performance in the history of the event. He shut down with 10m to go. We have never seen anything like it before” Jamaican government minister Edmund Bartlett also defended Bolt's actions, stating, "We have to see it in the glory of their moment and give it to them. We have to allow the personality of youth to express itself.”
Bolt then focused on his next objective, which was taking gold in the 200m. Pretty much everyone was in agreement that Bolt was the man to beat. Michael Johnson said that he assumed Bolt would win but he was confident that his own world record of 19.32 would not be beaten.
However at the final, Bolt won and set a new world and Olympic record of 19.30. Johnson's record fell despite the fact that Bolt was impeded by a 0.9 m/s headwind. The feat made him the first sprinter since Quarrie to hold both 100 m and 200 m world records simultaneously. Furthermore, Bolt became the first sprinter to break both records at the same Olympics. Two days later he ran the third leg in helping Jamaica win the 4x100m relay taking his tally to three.
Bolt was and is like a lightning bolt both figuratively and as a jolt of energy to international athletics. The sport of sprinting had in recent years become bogged down under the weight of various drug scandals, the BALCO scandal, Tim Montgomery, Justin Gatlin had been stripped of their 100m world records while Marion Jones had to return three Olympic gold medals all after testing positive for banned substances. But here was an athlete from one of the poorest nations on earth, who simply devastated all competition and was by all accounts completely clean. Not that his phenomenal times didn’t create suspicion but his coach Glen Mills declared “We will test any time, any day, any part of the body...[he] doesn't even like to take vitamins".
Usain Bolt is simply the fastest man who ever lived and he lives and races in our lifetime. He is the shining symbol of the golden age of sport we are living through and he came along at exactly the right time in the right place. He is a man of destiny and it is truly awesome to watch a man like Bolt achieve what only he is capable of. His off field manner is super relaxed and as a proud Jamaican enjoys music, cricket and football. A remarkable ambassador, not only for Jamaica but for human kind.
Looking towards London 2012, Bolt is the clear favourite in a strong field but we may not see a repeat of his world record-breaking feats. The Jamaican wants to "amaze" the world by running 9.4 seconds, which would take 0.18secs off the mark he set in Berlin in 2009. "I'm not sure if London will be kind in terms of temperature," says his coach Mills. "Given the right conditions, it's possible," he admitted, but added "the world record would be a bonus".
While this year Bolt’s much anticipated autobiography is set for release but as yet there are no leaks on what it will contain. When pressed on the issue at a news conference he said “you can't really give away anything in your book ... should be exciting, it's my life, and I'm a cool and exciting guy", says it all really.
by Hugo Mc Cafferty