Usain Bolt sprints into history with golden double
Usain Bolt: the only man to successfully defend the Olympic 100 and 200 metres, the double double.
He delivered history's "oh my god" moment with a finger pinned to his mouth, a gesture aimed at the doubters who thought the golden thread that runs through his core had started to fray. It was also pointing in the direction of the man to his left, Yohan Blake, who confused victory in the Jamaican trials over the same distance as evidence of his own power to make all before him yield. Not yet young man.
Blake's lunge for the line was in its own terms a mark of respect for the champion. There was no slowing here, no peacock display under braking as he crossed the line. He was balls out, draining every last ounce of effort to drag Bolt back into his orbit.
No chance. Bolt was upright, magnificent and proud, an athlete for the ages doing his thing when it mattered. What a moment. What a man.
There was something of Las Vegas about the day. This race began in mid-afternoon in the Westfield Centre adjacent to Olympic Park with thousands milling, hanging out, killing time, savouring the countdown, sensing that they were part of an extraordinary moment. This was not just about the Olympics, or even sport. There is an awesome quality attached to great deeds, and running fast is right up there with lunar landings and a knockout punch thrown in a prize-fighting ring in its power to compel. It is so far beyond what is normal, outside our range of experience.
Jamaica was well represented on the walkways and in the cafes, splashes of green, gold and black proclaiming an association with the Caribbean island. Bolt validates every last one of them, bestows upon them a sense of entitlement and a swagger. They win because he wins. Where are you from? Jamaica. Ah, Usain Bolt. And so with every stride he takes deeper into the annals of Olympic achievement Bolt augments the identity of his country, projecting Jamaica into the living rooms of the world.
The debate is already well advanced to claim for the island and her antecedents in West Africa a significant gene that confers upon them the gift of speed. The science is not yet as powerful as the sociology. Nature trails nurture and the contribution of the athletic hot house that is Trelawny and its schools, Waldensia Primary and William Knibb Memorial High, where Bolt's talent was spotted and encouraged. Even if a super gene proves to be the catalyst, it does not make him smile, or dance, or draw his golden bow. These are attributes all his own, expressions of a non-derivative kind.
Yes he has cultivated and polished the persona. The insouciance of pre-fight ritual, the joking last night in the warm-up area with baseball cap casually pitched atop that pristine dome, is all a little practiced perhaps but not sufficiently to harm the authenticity of the beast. It is these, the inflections of a vivid personality that augment the fable rooted in the velocity at which he covers the ground.
There were plenty of world class sprinters in this field, but only one Bolt. He is the face of these Games, the athlete that matters most, the special one, separate and distinct.
British athletes have enjoyed a degree of Olympic plunder unprecedented in the modern era. We luxuriate in the dominance of our cyclists, the excellence of our rowers and sailors. And yes we had that golden hour six days ago that ranks right up there as one of the greatest episodes in our sporting canon. But the feats of Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford were ours to own. They had meaning only for us. Bolt transcends borders, race, creed, religious orientation. When he lines up on the blocks he is representing humanity, defining what is possible within the limitations of the species. He belongs to all of us.
Where he stands in the hierarchy of the great fast men is almost irrelevant. Eight others had done what he managed in Beijing, claiming double gold in the sprint events, among them Jesse Owens and Carl Lewis, who in different eras circumscribed the age with their athletic endeavours. This is the territory occupied by Bolt today, a towering figure in the presence of whom we freeze.
An athlete of the calibre of David Rudisha, who took gold in the 800 metres in world record time – yes that was the 800 metres – was presented as the undercard entertainment. The 23-year-old Maasai supernova is undefeated, a two-lap warrior to stand comparison with Ovett and Coe, Aouita and El Guerrouj. To Kenya and the continent of Africa he is a treasure trove of YouTube gold and positive press clippings, but not Bolt, not the fastest man on earth.
His arrival met with the standard fanfare. The last gold medal ceremony of the evening was coming to an end as the competitors made their way to the blocks. The mention of his name set the decibel level soaring and then 80,000 voices fell silent as if the starter had a volume switch in his hand.
The rasp of the starting device was the signal to unleash hell. Bolt hit the bend like a greyhound. This is the event best suited to his 6ft 5in frame. Blake kept him honest but nothing more. As he came to the finishing straight Blake was pumping his heaving bulk for all it was worth. Bolt was flying, head still, eyes on the prize.
Facts in figures
1 Bolt became first man to retain both sprint titles.
95% The fitness level Bolt claimed he was at before the start of the Olympics in London.
2 Bolt holds two of the best three 200m times ever recorded.
12 Hundreths of a second that Bolt beat Blake in both the 100 and 200m.