Toronto- Beneath a steady rain, an entire stadium stood together in silence and anticipation.
All of them waiting for the show that is Usain Bolt. The most spectacular 10 seconds in all of sport.
This wasn’t Beijing, it wasn’t the Olympics and he didn’t run a world record time on the wet track at Varsity Stadium Thursday night. And none of that seemed to matter.
Not to the smiling faces here. Not to the kids who ran laps around the track with him afterwards.
Not to wide eyes of the young and old, the white and the black, a sporting crowd that looked a lot more like Toronto that most sporting crowds in this city.
A crowd that felt right and a one-man show, despite the rest of the dressing, that felt just as right.
Bolt has that reach on the sporting world. He took a dead game and made it very much alive last night. He carried a sport given up as yesterday’s news and made it current.
“He understands his role,” said Donovan Bailey, once the fastest man in the world himself, but one who never captivated the world the way Bolt has done.
“He understands what it is to be an entertainer. He understands what’s expected of him. These people are all here to see him, white people, black people, Chinese people, kids. Look around, this is the mega-city, the multi-cultural city. These kids in the crowd tonight, they’re the future leaders of our city.”
I would love to tell you about the field that ran against Bolt last night in the Festival of Excellence but here’s the thing with Bolt: He renders the field irrelevant. He runs races by himself, for himself. There was a field for 50 metres, a field he looked like he was jogging in on the wet track, and then he did what he does: He left everyone else in his dust.
He ran the final 50 metres alone, which is how a one man show is supposed to work.
It was Bolt and no one else. He didn’t love his time, his race, the wet track, the conditions, but he did what he needed to do. He won handily. He shook all the hands and signed all the autographs.
He did the corporate things he was supposwed to do. When you’re the biggest attraction in a sport that desperately needs attractions, you make life easier for yourself when you smile on cue, when you pose for the cameras when you’re on the big screen, when pound your chest or box with your fists or do that Jamaican dance thing, that isn’t being a hot dog.
He was Bolt being Bolt. That isn’t offensive, it’s entertainment. And in a place where most people wouldn’t go into their backyards to watch Perdita Felicien run, a whole stadium was filled, paying serious dollars, all for Bolt.
All of it worth the money.
“This is fantastic,” said Bailey, looking around in the rain, seeing the crowd. “People don’t even seem to care that it’s raining. They just want to be part of this event. Usain Bolt is the No. 1 athlete in the world and the world is smaller than ever before. “
Last summer in China, Bolt put on a the kind of show no one has put on before him. He won the 100 metres, won the 200 metres, set world records in both races, and combined with three others to set another world record in the 100 metre relay. Nobody had ever pulled off three golds medals, three world records in those three races before.
And last night was his first 100 metres since Beijing, the first real race of the season, even if didn’t necessarily feel real. It felt like a show, because of the scene, because of the scenery, because there was no one really here to challenge Bolt. The organizers were smart enough to put together a quality field, just not one that would have the wrong guy lose.
Usain Bolt admitted he ran carefully, just carefully enough to win and not take any chance an injuring himself this early in the season. But nobody complained, there was no reason to. He ran and we watched and this once upon a time story ended happily ever after on this night.