Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

James Lawton: Usain Bolt elevates already great Olympics

The moment of glory for Usain Bolt in the men's 100 metres final (AP/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
The moment of glory for Usain Bolt in the men's 100 metres final (AP/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 05: Usain Bolt of Jamaica crosses the line to win gold in the MenÂs 100m Final on Day 9 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 5, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Usain Bolt in his trademark pose after winning the men's 100-metres final (AP/Matt Slocum)
Usain Bolt crosses the finish line ahead of Jamaica's Yohan Blake in the men's 100 metres final (AP/Matt Dunham)
South Africa's Oscar Pistorius in the Men's 400m Heats during day eight of the London Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium,, London
LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 04: Spectators soak up the atmopshere on Day 8 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on August 4, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 04: Athletes swim the first leg of the Women's Triathlon during the Triathlon on Day 8 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Hyde Park on August 4, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 04: Oscar Pistorius of South Africa competes in the Men's 400m Round 1 Heats on Day 8 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on August 4, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Competitors start the Women's Triathlon around London
LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 04: Clarisse Cruz of Portugal competes in the Women's 3000m Steeplechase Round 1 Heats on Day 8 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on August 4, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 01: Vasiliki Arvaniti of Greece hits over the net during the Women's Beach Volleyball Preliminary match between China and Greece on Day 5 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Horse Guards Parade on August 1, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
WINDSOR, ENGLAND - AUGUST 01: The Germany team throw their cox Martin Sauer into the water after winning gold in the Men's Eight Final on Day 5 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Eton Dorney on August 1, 2012 in Windsor, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
WINDSOR, ENGLAND - AUGUST 01: A Canada team member jumps into the water as his team-mates celebrate winning silver in the Men's Eight Final on Day 5 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Eton Dorney on August 1, 2012 in Windsor, England. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 01: Hassine Ghada of Tunisia competes in the Women's 69kg Weightlifting on Day 5 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at ExCeL on August 1, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 01: Natasha Perdue of Great Britain reacts while competing in the Women's 69kg Weightlifting on Day 5 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at ExCeL on August 1, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 02: Anastasia Zueva of Russia and Elizabeth Beisel of the United States embrace after competing in the Women's 200m Backstroke heat 3 on Day 6 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre on August 2, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
British police officers arrest a supporter of Ukrainian FEMEN movement protesting in a "Islamic Marathon" against what they claim are bloody Islamist regimes that are supported by the International Olympic Committee outside City Hall in London, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)
Ning Ding of China plays a forehand during the Women's Singles Table Tennis quarter-final match against Ai Fukuhara of Japan on on Day 4 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at ExCeL on July 31, 2012
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Hope Munro (L) of Australia drops her stick as she is challenged by Julia Mueller of Germany during the Women's Hockey Match between Germany and Australia on day 4 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Riverbank Arena on July 31, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Michael Maze of Denmark completes during the Men's Singles Table Tennis quarter-final match against Dimitrij Ovtcharov of Germany on Day 4 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at ExCeL on July 31, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: xxxx plays a forehand during the xxxx match against xxxx on on Day 4 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at ExCeL on July 31, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Chad le Clos of South Africa celebrates after winning the gold in the Men's 200m Butterfly final on Day 4 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre on July 31, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: xxxx plays a forehand during the xxxx match against xxxx on on Day 4 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at ExCeL on July 31, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Anthony Davis #14 of United States dunks over Salah Mejri #15 of Tunisia during the Men's Basketball Preliminary Round match on Day 4 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Basketball Arena on July 31, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Kosuke Kitajima of Japan prepares to compete in the Men's 200m Breaststroke semi final 2 on Day 4 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre on July 31, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Shiwen Ye of China competes in the Women's 200m Individual Medley final on Day 4 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre on July 31, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: (L-R) Gemma Lowe of Great Britain and Kathleen Hersey of the United States dive in the water at the start of the Women's 200m Butterfly semi final 2 on Day 4 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre on July 31, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Russell Westbrook #7 of United States dunks the ball against Tunisia during the Men's Basketball Preliminary Round match on Day 4 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Basketball Arena on July 31, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Alaaeldin Abouelkassem of Egypt competes with Byungchul Choi of Korea in the Men's Foil Individual Semifinal against on Day 4 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at ExCeL on July 31, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Hannah Johnston/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Anderson Mina Rojas of Equador (R) in action with Uktamjon Rahmonov of Uzbekistan during the Men's Light Welter (64kg) Boxing on Day 4 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at ExCeL on July 31, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images) ***BESTPIX***
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Ai Fukuhara of Japan serves during the Women's Singles Table Tennis quarter-final match match against Ning Ding of China on on Day 4 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at ExCeL on July 31, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Gabrielle Douglas of the United States of America competes on the balance beam in the Artistic Gymnastics Women's Team final on Day 4 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at North Greenwich Arena on July 31, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Elizabeth Tweddle of Great Britain performs on the uneven bars in the Artistic Gymnastics Women's Team final on Day 4 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at North Greenwich Arena on July 31, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Sheng Lei of China celebrates winning the Men's Foil Individual Gold Medal Bout against Alaaeldin Abouelkassem of Egypt on Day 4 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at ExCeL on July 31, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Hannah Johnston/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Silver medallist Michael Phelps of the United States reacts after receiving his medal during the medal ceremony for the Men's 200m Butterfly final on Day 4 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre on July 31, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Qingfeng Lin of China competes during the Men's 69kg Weightlifting Final on Day 4 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at ExCeL on July 31, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Aidan Zingel #1 and Igor Yudin #6 of Australia block Australia shot from Great Britain during Men's Volleyball on Day 4 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Earls Court on July 31, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Sheng Lei (L) of China competes in the Men's Foil Individual Gold Medal Bout against Alaaeldin Abouelkassem of Egypt on Day 4 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at ExCeL on July 31, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images) ***BESTPIX***
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Daniel Narcisse of France jumps ahead of Gonzalo Matias Carou of Argentina during the Men's Handball Preliminary match between Argentina and France on Day 4 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at The Copper Box on July 31, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Michael Phelps of the United States dives off of the block at the start of heat 5 of the Men's 200m Butterfly on Day 3 of the London 2012 Olympic Games
Nicholas McCrory from the United States during warm-ups on Day 3 of the London 2012 Olympic Games
German Sanchez Sanchez and Ivan Garcia Navarro (L) of Mexico look on from the pool deck during the Men's Synchronised 10m Platform Diving on Day 3 of the London 2012 Olympic Games
Jose Antonio Guerra and Jeinkler Aguirre of Cuba during the Men's Synchronised 10m Platform Diving on Day 3 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre on July 30, 2012 in London, England.
Eric Hurd and Jeff Larimer of the United States compete during the Men's Canoe Double (C2) Slalom heats on Day 3 of the London 2012 Olympic Games
Clayton Fredericks of Australia falls from Bendigo in the Eventing Cross Country Equestrian event on Day 3 of the London 2012 Olympic Games
Great Britain's Tom Daley (left) and Peter Waterfield practice before the Men's Synchronised 10m Platform Final during day three of the 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre, Olympic Park, London.
Great Britain's Nicola Wilson riding Opposition Buzz jumps The Moon fence on the cross country course during The Eventing at Greenwich Park, on the third day of the London 2012 Olympics.
Great Britain's Max Whitlock competes on the vault during the Artistic Gymnastics team final at the North Greenwich Arena, London, on the third day of the London 2012 Olympics
Great Britain's Sarah Clark (left) is thrown by France's Automne Pavia during their WomenÕs 57kg Judo bout at the ExCel North Arena 2, London, on the third day of the London 2012 Olympics.
Great Britain's Richard Brickell during Day 1 of the Skeet Qualification Round at the Royal Artillery Barracks, London, on the third day of the London 2012 Olympics.
Francesca Dallape and Tania Cagnotto of Italy compete in the Women's Synchronised 3m Springboard final on Day 2 of the London 2012 Olympic Games
Kazakhstan's Sergey Lim is thrown by Japan's Masashi Ebinuma (right) in the Men's 66kg Judo Round of 16 at the ExCeL Centre on the second day of the London 2012 Olympics.
Great Britain's Liam Tancock starts his Men's 100m Backstroke First Semi-final at the Aquatics Centre, London.
USA's Venus Williams during the practice session at The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Wimbledon, London.
Great Britain's Joseph Regan (blue cap) battles for the ball against Romania in the mens Water Polo preliminary group B match at the Water Polo Arena, London.
Great Britain's Beth Tweddle competes on the uneven bars during the Artistic Gymnastics Team Qualification at the North Greenwich Arena, London, on the second day of the London 2012 Olympics
Rebecca Adlington (C) of Great Britain competes in the Women's 400m Freestyle heat 3 on Day 2 of the London 2012 Olympic Games
Yao Jinnan of China practises on the Beam during training sessions for artistic gymnastics ahead of the 2012 Olympic Games
Bryony Shaw of Great Britain in action during training at the Weymouth & Portland Venue ahead of the London 2012 Olympic Games
Vasiliki Millousi of Greece competes on the beam in the Artistic Gymnastics Women's Team qualification on Day 2 of the London 2012 Olympic Games
Laura Ludwig of Germany dives for the ball during Women's Beach Volleyball Preliminary match between Germany and Australia on Day 2 of the London 2012 Olympic Games
Victoria Komova of Russia competes on the vault in the Artistic Gymnastics Women's Team qualification on Day 2 of the London 2012 Olympic Games
Mike Dawson of New Zealand competes during the Men's Kayak (K1) Canoe Slalom heats on Day 2 of the London 2012 Olympic Games
Heem Wei Lim of Singapore performs on the beam in the Artistic Gymnastics Women's Team qualification on Day 2 of the London 2012 Olympic Games
Michael Phelps of the United States dives into the water to swim his leg of the relay as team mate Nathan Adrian touches the wall during the Final of the Men's 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay on Day 2 of the London 2012 Olympic Games
Emily Seebohm of Australia competes in the Women's 100m Backstroke semi final 2 on Day 2 of the London 2012 Olympic Games
Luol Deng #9 of Great Britain falls as a basket is made against Russia during their Men's Basketball Game on Day 2 of the London 2012 Olympic Games
Austin Playfoot, lights the Olympic Cauldron following it being moved into position ready for the athletics in the Olympic Stadium on July 30, 2012 in London
Great Britain's Sarah Barrow (near) and Tonia Couch practice their diving routine during the training session in the Aquatics Centre at Olympic Park, London.
Great Britain's Rebecca Gallantree (bottom) and Alicia Blagg compete in the Women's Synchronised 3m Springboard at the Aquatics Centre, London, on the second day of the London 2012 Olympics.
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 20: Street artist James Cochran, Aka Jimmy C puts the finishing touches to a piece of work depicting the face of Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt on July 20, 2012 in London, England. The opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic games will take place in seven days on July 27, 2012. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Annabelle Smith of Australia practices a dive during a training session ahead of the London Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre in Olympic Park on July 26, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
A member of Team Australia practices the floor exercise during training sessions for artistic gymnastics ahead of the 2012 Olympic Games at Greenwich Training Academy on July 26, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Diver Tom Daley of Great Britain shakes water out of his hair as he climbs out of the pool during a diving training session ahead of the London Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre in Olympic Park on July 26, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 26: Tom Daley (R) and Peter Waterfield of Great Britain during a training session ahead of the London Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre in Olympic Park on July 26, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 26: Tom Daley of Great Britain dives during a training session ahead of the London Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre in Olympic Park on July 26, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Great Britain's Tim Baillie (left) and Stott Etienne in action in the mens double canoe during the training session at Lee Valley White Water Centre, Waltham Cross. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday July 26, 2012. Photo credit should read: Stephen Pond/PA Wire.
Athletes from the Great Britain Women's Synchronised Swimming team practice during a training session ahead of the London Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre in Olympic Park on July 25, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 25: (EDITORS NOTE: Multiple exposures were combined in camera to produce this image.) A Chinese diver trains ahead of the London Olympic Games at the Aquatic Centre on July 25, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Hannah Johnston/Getty Images)
The Great Britain synchronize team train ahead of the London Olympic Games at the Aquatic Centre on July 25, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Hannah Johnston/Getty Images)
Yang Sun of China swims during a training session ahead of the London Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre in Olympic Park on July 26, 2012 in London, England.
James Goddard of Great Britain looks on during a training session ahead of the London Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre in Olympic Park on July 26, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)
Swimmer Hayden Stoeckel of Australia swims during a training session ahead of the London Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre in Olympic Park on July 26, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)
Daniele Matias Hypolito of Brazil chalks her feet on the uneven bars during training sessions for artistic gymnastics ahead of the 2012 Olympic Games at Greenwich Training Academy on July 26, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

It wasn't as though Usain Bolt had to address a shortfall of heroes. He had only to confirm his status as the fastest, most phenomenal athlete in the history of the Olympics and when he did this so beautifully, so witheringly, we could finally relax, truly, about the status of London 2012.

No Olympics can aspire to the highest rank without the imprint of the greatest of competitors and while the traditional pass-mark commendation of a "great Games", when IOC president Jacques Rogge addresses the world at Sunday's closing ceremony was already assured, Bolt held out the promise of something more.



It was more of the oxygen which allowed all who cared about the meaning of sport to breathe more easily under the weight of Chinese authoritarianism in Beijing four years ago.



Bolt supplied it in great draughts when he astounded the world in the Bird's Nest stadium and this week the intervening years just shrivelled away.



We were back in that same state of wonder – eyes flashing to the electronic message board confirming the evidence of our eyes, which was that if Bolt had suffered troubling days since his last stunning world record win in Berlin three years ago, he had still performed miraculously well enough to smash his own Olympic mark.



It was interesting that when he finally closed down his various speeches to the world – we were well into the early hours of an ecstatic Jamaica's 50th Independence Day by then – he was less of the carefree vaudevillian and more of the sports statesman.



He did briefly join in the applause of the world's media before telling us that Thursday's 200 metres final represents the second leg of his ambition to become a legend. It sounded, just a bit, like Shakespeare aspiring to become a book of the month selection.



Bolt was for the ages when he chewed on his chicken nuggets in a celebratory feast in Beijing. Here he simply invited us to consider once again the extent of his impact, his life force in an event which has been restored as the single most compelling sub-10 seconds in all of sport.



Crucial to such contemplation is a sense of the twin responses to his breathtaking dash in Beijing. One was the elation which accompanies the certainty that you have seen something utterly exceptional.



The other was the fear that you might be duped.



That second reaction was more oppressive if you had happened to be in Seoul 20 years earlier when Ben Johnson made a run which, in its time, was no less sensational.



Certainly, it left the great Olympian Carl Lewis wide-eyed and slack-jawed as he trailed in a distant second. That Johnson, yellow-eyed and numb, tested positive was of course the single most damaging blow in the history of the Olympic competition.



Yet each day that passes in the wake of Bolt's supreme performances and his status remains clean is a deliverance we should not so easily forget.



If there was any tendency to do that in the wee hours of yesterday the bronze medallist American Justin Gatlin, a convicted doper who served a four-year suspension, was quick to draw us back to the recent, perilous past. At least that had to be the inference when he said how proud he was, at this late hour, to be part of a great moment in the history of sport.



This also reminded us that Bolt had not only reached out to the future but also delivered a kind of liberation. He had freed us to believe again in the most epic achievement.



For these Olympics it is the gift he promised and the one he has unearthed from a gloriously intriguing set of circumstances. If he mocked the idea that he was vulnerable to the extreme talent of his young compatriot Yohan Blake, he had also made his contribution to the doubts.



These were all but dispelled in the serenity of his progress through the semi-finals, after which the bookmakers took advice and changed his odds from 8-11 to 2-7, but enough of them lingered, at least in some minds, to fuel the acclaim when he slaughtered the field.



It was his gift to the Olympics, his huge reminder that if we have, maybe understandably, become preoccupied with domestic glory, there is a wider, deeper yearning beyond the league table of medals.



This is for the lineage of the greatest Olympic champions to come alive before our own eyes on our own soil.



Michael Johnson performed such a feat for the least uplifting of modern Olympics, the commercial, bomb-darkened beanfeast of Atlanta in 1996, when the reigning IOC president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, pointedly refused to offer the saving description of a "great Games".



Here Bolt hasn't been a saviour –the need for that was already fading after the embarrassments of security recruitment and empty seats were consumed by the brilliance of the home army on so many Olympic fronts. He has been the supreme enhancer, the man who carried us higher, faster and stronger in the belief that anything is possible.



In Jamaica he has no doubt provoked a thousand calypsos. Here, he has simply made everybody pleased to be alive when an improbably great athlete passed by.



In the end, Bolt wasn't required to rescue these Olympics Games. It was enough that he should illuminate their every corner.



Murray has grown up in fine style



It will take more than Andy Murray's superb gold medal performance to persuade some of us that tennis, any more than golf, should be part of the Olympics, but this is not to diminish the significance of his defeat of Roger Federer.



At Wimbledon a few weeks ago Murray delivered the most convincing evidence so far that he might indeed produce enough of his game to win a Grand Slam tournament.



Now he has shown that on an indisputably important occasion, against the best of opposition, he can play to all his strengths. It is a great triumph not only for an extremely gifted sportsman but one who has looked at himself with a severely critical eye before it was too late.



The steely old champion Ivan Lendl should also take a huge bow here.



For a quiet man, Lendl has spoken with a thunderous voice. He said it was, competitively speaking, time to grow up. As rites of passage go, an Olympic medal is certainly a most decent start.



16 years on, the fire burns bright in Ben



Sixteen years ago a teenaged member of the Great Britain team seemed a little startled to be visited by a party of raddled refugees from the Atlanta Games. They had driven from Atlanta to Savannah, the agreeable hometown of the celebrated lyricist Johnny Mercer, and wanted to know if this precocious youngster might just help out his nation's lamentably small haul of medals while fiddling around in his little boat, which was apparently called a laser.



That would also have been a fair description of the eyes he turned on some of his less informed interrogators. However, he did say that if he failed, it wouldn't be for any lack of effort. Later, in the piano bar, someone remarked that the boy did seem extremely focused on the task in hand. He had enough of it, certainly, to win a silver medal – the precursor of an endless stream of gold. Ben Ainslie, in less pressing circumstances, might have borrowed the Mercer lines, "Moon River, wider than a mile, I'm crossing you in style some day".

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