Fri, September 20, 2013

Usain Bolt lights up London Olympics

By JAMES LAWTON, Special to QMI Agency


Jamaica's Usain Bolt wins the men's 100m final during the London 2012 Olympic Games Sunday in London. (AFP)

It wasn’t as though Usain Bolt had to address a shortfall of heroes. He had only to confirm his status as the most phenomenal athlete in Olympic history and when he did this so beautifully, 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 “great games” when IOC president Jacques Rogge addresses the world at Sunday’s Closing Ceremony already was assured, Bolt held out the promise of something more.

It was more of the oxygen that 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 then 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.

Bolt was for the ages when he chewed on his chicken nuggets in a celebratory feast in Beijing. Here he simply invited us to once again consider the extent of his impact, his life-force in an event that’s 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 breath-taking dash in Beijing. One was the elation that accompanies the certainty 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 Monday the bronze medallist American Justin Gatlin, a convicted doper who served four years suspension, was quick to draw us back to the recent, perilous past. At least that had to 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 semifinals, 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.

— James Lawton writes for The Independent in London