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Rio Olympics: Usain Bolt dazzles in his Superman role by foiling 'villain' Gatlin

By Mark Staniforth

Overshadowed by interminable drug test controversies and overlooked by the benevolent figure of Christ the Redeemer, the Rio Olympics spread its arms wide open to embrace its true saviour on Sunday night.

With cheers for the chosen one, Usain Bolt, and boos for cartoon villain Justin Gatlin, a city that had been slow on the uptake for athletics saved its carnival spirit for arguably the greatest ringmaster the sport has known.

He duly delivered with a flashy smile and no end of trademark lightning poses, giving a Games dredged in so much frustration and controversy a ray of green and gold sunshine which may single-handedly light its way for four years to come.

The importance of his 100m win cannot be overstated, given the impact of its likely alternative - victory instead in the blue riband event for a man who has twice been banned for positive drug tests, just as the sport is lurching through a sewage of recriminations and state-wide bans.

The rolling chants of "Bolt, Bolt, Bolt!" began spreading even before the Jamaican superstar first appeared on the track to prepare for his semi-final.

He accomplished his first mission in the manner of a man undertaking a half-hearted Sunday stroll, easing to a near halt and grinning yet still recording a season's best time of 9.86 seconds.

If a sense of something historic was sweeping around the Brazilian bleachers it was helped by Wayde van Niekerk's blistering 400m world record less than an hour before Bolt was due back.

If anything was going to win the Brazilian fans over to athletics it was surely this. Not only did they have a universal superhero but also a cartoon villain in Gatlin.

Where Bolt had milked the cheers of the fans after his semi-final heat, Gatlin, slower in 9.94, shot over the finish line and straight up the tunnel, boos from a sizeable number of home fans ringing in his ears.

It begged comparisons with the split loyalties which preceded the 'Rumble in the Jungle', with Muhammad Ali courting the cheers of the besotted Zairean masses who needed no encouragement to anoint the ogreish George Foreman public enemy number one.

And the Brazilian fans were not shy to expose their loyalties, booing and whistling the American as he stalked out for his individual entrance, and again during the lane-by-lane introductions.

If the opinions of the home fans were shaped more by the desire to buy into the Bolt miracle than any particular moral issue with Gatlin's failed tests, there will have been many in the corridors of power feeling distinctly uneasy when they lined up on the blocks.

If it would be an exaggeration to say that a Gatlin win would have destroyed the sport, it would have provided an unseemly epitaph to the seemingly never-ending series of doping controversies and the cack-handed way in which they have been dealt with.

Bolt is held up as the example of all that is good about athletics, the untainted standard bearer.

A sluggish start by the Jamaican hardly settled the nerves of those craving a Bolt win. He stretched through in the final yards, Gatlin trailing, in a relatively modest time of 9.81 seconds. There was no record but unlike Beijing, the time didn't matter.

By the time Bolt had disappeared to begin his endless round of TV interviews, his name was still rolling around the bleachers.

Ali's old trainer Angelo Dundee used to like to say that the boxer could parachute down into any country and the first person he met would know his name and break out into a beaming smile.

It is tempting to suggest the same would happen if Bolt ventured out into Rio's dark streets. That he could single-handedly stop the favela gunfire and swoop Superman-style to stop muggers.

Such is the extent of the myth that Bolt has cultivated. However preposterous, it is one there is no harm buying into. The sport has anointed its super-human saviour. And he still has the 200m and 4x100m to go.

Belfast Telegraph

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