A night to remember: a quick dash of main man Bolt is the Rio Games’ panacea, for now
The Jamaican filled the Olympic Stadium and, for a fleeting period, soothed all the ills of this Olympics
It was just after 9pm when the maestro arrived, his entrance punctuated by a rising cheer from the Jamaica fans in the corner of the stadium from which the athletes enter the track, quickly spreading to all corners of the ground.
Usain was in the house – making the IOC and everyone else worried about this Olympics forgot all their problems, at least for a little while.
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Diving pools the colour of lime jelly, champion swimmers getting robbed at gunpoint, empty seats at major events – whatever your ills, Bolt had the fix.
Of course he won the men’s 100 metres. That’s just what he does. His time of 9.81 seconds was not close to his world record 9.58, but it was a season’s best in a year marred by injury.
“Somebody said I can become immortal. Two more medals to go and I can sign off. Immortal,” said the champion after completing leg one of his ‘triple-triple’ – winning the 100m, 200m and 4x100m golds for a third consecutive Olympics.
“It was brilliant. I didn’t go so fast but I’m so happy I won,” he added after becoming the first man to win three 100m golds in a row.
Having warmed up the crowd by strolling his heat, head on a swivel as he crossed the line, Bolt made his second entrance of the night, for his final, shortly after 10pm.
Just before, South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk had broken Michael Johnson’s 17-year-old 400m world record, knocking 0.15 off the mark with 43.03 seconds.
That got a massive ovation in the packed Olympic Stadium – on this night, at least, the TV cameras were going to struggle to find empty seats. It was the last of the great American Johnson’s world records to fall, and the crowd rose to their feet in loud acclaim.
Bolt felt they could get louder.
The eight finalists entered individually, the cameras tracking their walk from the tunnel to the backing of jagged guitars. Not all seemed comfortable with this WWE-style innovation. One of them was.
The stadium was close to its 60,000 capacity and all rose as the Jamaican sauntered out, arms outstretched as if to say ‘give me what’s mine’. They did. “BOLT, BOLT, BOLT” was the cry as he had a cursory jog to the 20m mark to warm up the muscles.
The other seven men on the start line in the final might as well have been anonymous as the crowd waited for his name to be read. Well, not quite true – the American drug cheat Justin Gatlin was roundly and rightly booed, while Yohan Blake got a semi-decent cheer just for having the good sense to come from the same country as Bolt.
Eventually, after prolonged shushing, the crowd quietened for the start. A helicopter – on security or camera detail? – was all that could be heard. Apparently, after all the entertainment, there was a race to run too.
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And Bolt won, of course, safely home ahead of Gatlin (9.89) and the Canadian, Andre De Grasse (9.91).
That distraction out of the way, the show could continue, with Bolt taking a couple of laps of honour, posing for pictures and grabbing a stuffed mascot and a Jamaica flag along the way, before finally unleashing his trademark lightning pose to more wild acclaim.
Ukraine’s Bohdan Bondarenko, who is probably not destined to transcend sport and become a global figurehead like Bolt, was busy trying to compete in the men’s high jump qualifying round group B as the sprinter unleashed his first lightning strike to the massed ranks of cameramen just behind. He almost went underneath the bar on that effort.
Another lightning strike and Bolt was off the stage. The crowd stormed to the exits at simliar velocity to the man they had just watched, a perplexingly small percentage anxious to stick around for the high jump.
The show was over and this Games’ problems had evaporated as quickly as the crowd, at least for a day or so.
They’ll return, but fear not – the amazing Bolt show returns for part two, the 200m, on Thursday.
“This is what we train for. I told you guys I was going to do it,” he said.
“Stay tuned, two more to go.”