Reports of Usain Bolt’s demise have been exaggerated. After a 100 metres race that again left his rivals not so much trailing as shambling in his wake, the fastest man on the planet has retained his Olympic crown.
“I’m only 90 per cent fit” he claimed a few days ago. Which is just as well, because if he’d been 100 per cent he’d have ended up doing his victory lap in the Westfield shopping mall.
The men’s 100 metres is the blue ribbon event of Olympic athletics. But it’s also the most brutal. A lifetime’s work is destroyed or validated in less time than it takes to count to ten.
The sports long-distance sprinters retain a strange elegance; their middle-distance counterparts are a study in controlled power.
But with the sprinters there is room for nothing but crude, raw aggression. The immediacy of success or failure makes theirs a truly gladiatorial contest. Only the fittest survives.
And then into this cut-throat arena ambles Usain Bolt. Whilst all around him appear to be polishing their weapons, Bolt is polishing his gags. He’s constantly jumping, joking and japin– with the crowd, with the TV cameras, and with himself.
Until he the moment he drops down onto the blocks. Most sprinters adopt as low a stance as possible, and explode upwards at the gun. Bolt starts with a strikingly high stance, then seems to suddenly flip upwards like a switchblade.
In Beijing the race was over after 30 metres. Tonight Bolt kept us on the edge of our seats for about 60, before turning on the afterburners. His start was relatively poor but his winning margin was – in sprinting terms – massive. Again, not as wide a gap as four years ago – this time his opponents could at least see him – but they had precious little chance of passing him.
One of the most memorable moments of the opening ceremony (if you set aside our parachuting monarch) was Sir Steve Redgrave handing the Olympic torch over to a new generation of aspiring athletes. Redgrave himself admitted, in characteristically honest fashion, that he felt disappointment at relinquishing the flame.
Tonight Usain Bolt was relinquishing nothing. After tonight some may harbor hopes of snatching it in Brazil in 2016. But they’ll have to catch him first.