‘Sweeter than Beijing’

We came, we saw, we concurred.
A legend was born yesterday, even though Usain Bolt himself still insisted there was a final denouement remaining. But you don’t run the second fastest 100-meter sprint of all time to beat the greatest assembled set of sprinters the world has ever seen and come out on the other side not being a legend.
This was Bolt’s time and my, how he delivered.
“This is sweeter [than Beijing],” admitted Bolt, “Because you doubted me.”
Maybe he doubted himself a little bit too. Because this time, there was no showboating, no histrionics, no fist pumping celebration before he had crossed the line. This time, Bolt was pushed and that was mostly because of the quality of the opposition on show.
Seven of the eight men in the final broke the 10 second barrier; Asafa Powell who had run a sub-10 in the semifinals was well on track for another, but he pulled up midway through the race — a heartbreaking story for the man who had first put Jamaican sprinting on the map. He has never won an Olympic medal but Bolt even had consolation words for him — “Respect bossy..hope u get well soon.. You started this Jamaican takeover.”
And a takeover it has been. While Bolt ran the second fastest time of all-time, his compatriot Yohan Blake, a man he has nicknamed ‘The Beast’ came in second, twelve-hundredths of a second behind in 9.75. The American Justin Gatlin, a man whose relationship with Bolt is so soured that they even refused to look at each other in the press conference, came third with 9.79.
Gatlin’s time is a personal best and Blake had also equalled his. This makes Bolt’s achievement even better, because a competitor is not just judged by his own times, but also by the men he beats. Including Bolt, the field included the four fastest men of all time. Bolt has bettered them all.
As for Jamaica, their gold and silver double made them only the second country to achieve this feat in the men’s 100 metres and the first since 1984. There must be something in the water there.
At the Olympic Stadium, the build-up to the race was fever pitch.
The marquee event was scheduled as the last act of the night and the anticipation kept rising to unprecedented levels as the semifinals set up what seemed to be a mouth-watering finale.
The excitement reached its crescendo as the athletes took their places on the starting blocks, each carrying out a choreographed pre-race routine that made them look more like boxers than sprinters.
Bolt admitted his routine, that included the bunny ears and a run through his hair were either tributes to his barber and roommate Maurice Smith or requests from his friends. But he was happy to give the gong for pre-race routines to Blake. “I already gave him the medal for that,” admitted Bolt after Blake’s snake like routine enthralled audiences. “I gotta do that, cause I am the beast,” joked Blake later.
At the races though, the jokes were over, and the serious business had begun. Just to illustrate, Bolt raised his head from his starting blocks and put his finger to his lips, shushing the audience. And they complied, as 80,000 people muted for the start of the greatest 100-metre final in history. It was eerie.
The starting gun went off.
“I was slightly worried about my start,” Bolt said afterwards. “I didn’t want a false start, so I kind of sat in the blocks a little bit. But I stopped worrying and I executed, and it worked.”
Indeed, Bolt did not get the best start. His reaction time was only the fifth fastest and he also jerked his way through the drive phase, which slowed him down as Tyson Gay, Gatlin, Blake and Powell took flight.
But the start has never been his strong point. “My coach told me not to worry about the start and just concentrate on the last 50 metres, which is my strength,” Bolt had said earlier.
His coach was of course right.
At the 40-metre mark, Bolt was still behind, his face straining with the effort to catch up. By the 50th though, those long legs had pumped into their gazelle-like strides and Bolt began to pull away.
“My legs felt good today,” Bolt said later. “I was confident.”
By the finish, it was clear that there was no catching Bolt. Cameras flashed and crowds roared as the Jamaican finished about a metre ahead of Blake. He was Olympic champion again; the first man to cross the finish line first on two consecutive 100-metre sprints in modern Olympics.
“I’m still the No.1, I’m still the best. I’m just happy,” said Bolt.
This was not the untouchable Bolt of Beijing or Berlin. This time, he was a little less explosive, a lot older and somewhat scarred by the memory of that false start in Daegu last year. At times, many even thought the unthinkable — Bolt might be beatable.
But legends rise to the occasion. Bolt certainly did. And whether he thinks so or not, his ascension to the pantheon of greats is now complete.

-With The Daily Star input

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