Usain Bolt cemented his place in Olympic history by retaining his 100 metres title. The Jamaican sprinter powered his way to victory in 9.63 seconds – a new Olympic record – to collect the gold medal. Bolt’s victory set the seal on an extraordinary weekend in London’s Olympic stadium. London 2012, like every Olympics game before it (with the exception of the unfairly maligned Atlanta games of 1996), looks like it might just be the ‘best Olympics ever’.
There was massive anticipation before the race. Bolt was joined on the starting blocks by Yohan Blake, his compatriot and the 2011 World Champion. Blake had beaten Bolt in the Jamaican Olympic trials. Also present was Justin Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic Champion, who set the fastest ever semi-final time (9.82 seconds). Asafa Powell, a former world record holder, was also present, as was Tyson Gay, a former World Champion, who had to fight back from an injury-dogged spell. With such a highly competitive field, it was speculated that the final might be the first race in which all eight competitors recorded a time of less than ten seconds.
Adding to the drama was the belief that Bolt’s aura was fading. This was the view of some ‘experts’ (presumably the same sort of people who once dismissed Mo Farah, the new 10,000 metres Olympic champion, as ‘an also-ran’ and ‘a no-hoper’). Last year in Daegu, Bolt was sensationally disqualified from the World Championship final, after a false start. In sport, whenever a dominant champion shows signs of mortality, no matter how small, these tend to be blown out of all proportion by those who are desperate to inject drama into the proceedings. Think back to Euro 2012 when the Spanish football team had apparently lost its edge. Well we all saw how that championship turned out.
In Beijing in 2008, Bolt had almost strutted his way to victory, dancing in triumph long before he reached the finishing line. Given the strength of the opposition, there was no way he could afford to do that in London. When the gun went, Bolt was slow out of the blocks, although as far as the fastest man in the world is concerned, slowness is relative. Powell and Gatlin both started well. Bolt, however, quickly found his best gear and he surged to the front of the field, crossing the finishing line in 9.63 seconds. Blake got the silver medal; a Jamaican one-two, coming just as the country celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of its independence from Britain. Gatlin had to settle for bronze. Seven of the eight finalists ran below ten seconds.
Bolt admitted that his false start from Daegu was preying on his mind, so he made sure to get out of the blocks properly in London, at the expense of an early lead. Once Bolt found his speed, he demonstrated why he is the best sprinter in the world. Bolt’s triumph makes him the first man to win successive 100 metres titles at the Olympics (Carl Lewis’s successful ‘defence’ in 1988 hardly counts, since he was awarded that title in an IOC courtroom, following Ben Johnson’s disqualification).
Bolt has become an iconic figure, not just in athletics but in sport, in general but the mark of a truly great champion is the ability to come back and succeed again, whenever you are a marked man and questions are being asked about your ability and motivation. Any questions that were hanging over Bolt, he emphatically answered them on Sunday night and he now deserves to be mentioned as one of the great Olympians.