Aug. 6: The beauty of last night’s 100m final was that no one was quite sure what Usain Bolt would do.
After he had won, one of the commentators could be heard remonstrating, possibly with himself: “Why did we ever, ever, ever doubt the brilliance of Usain Bolt?”
Since Bolt himself had encouraged the speculation by admitting he was only “95 per cent” fit, someone else wondered whether he had been playing “mind games” and engaging in just a bit of “kidology”.
Today, after the relative return of sanity after the edge of the seat excitement of the night before, some calmer Jamaicans were trying to assess the deeper significance of Bolt’s victory. Just after 10 minutes to 10pm on a balmy summer’s evening in London was the moment everyone had been waiting for.
It has been stated repeatedly during these Games that some sportsmen transcend the sports in which they participate. Of Bolt, it can now be said he transcends sports itself. “He has made us proud to be Jamaican,” declared Rosemarie Hudson who runs HopeRoad, an online publishing company which is trying to give a voice to undiscovered black and Asian authors in Africa, the Caribbean and Asia.
Rosemarie, a Londoner, probably spoke for her countrymen and women when she said: “I am certain all Jamaicans living in all the corners of the world have a special sense of pride, especially today, 6 August, our independence day.”
To her, Bolt was “not only a sportsman but an incredible ambassador for Jamaica. Bolt strikes again and leads the way for Jamaica”.
She was thinking of another Jamaican icon — Bob Marley — and three of his songs which captured her emotions: Three Little Birds (Don’t worry about a thing, cause every little thing gonna be alright); Get Up, Stand up (Get up, stand up: don’t give up the fight!); and One Love (One Love, One Heart/Let’s get together and feel all right).
For the 80,000 in the stadium last night, it was one of those “I was there” moments. Some 20 million watched it on television in the UK, compared with 17.1 million for Mo Farah in the 10,000 million and 10.7 million for (the increasingly tedious) Andy Murray at Wimbledon.
Countless others among the hundreds of millions across the world, who saw Bolt on television, will perhaps want to preserve today’s newspapers to look at the front pages 50 years from now or leave to be discovered by their children or children’s children.
Reporters had to file their stories quickly last night and say things like: “He is still No 1, still the Olympic champion at 100 metres, still the fastest man alive, still history’s greatest sprinter, still unmatched in his stirring ability to rise to the moment.” (New York Times).
The Jamaica Observer website invited its readers to tweet congratulations for Bolt under the hash tag #BoltLegend on Twitter. “Alexander” tweeted: “There will not be another sprinter like you in our lifetime!!!”
“Ronnie C" expressed similar sentiments on The Gleaner website: “Congratulations Team Jamaica! You have done us proud. We little but we talawah!” Talawah means plucky or feisty in Jamaican patois on an island with a population of 2.9 million. It is worth emphasising that silver in the men’s 100m was taken by Bolt’s training partner, Yohan Blake, who ran 9.75sec behind’s Bolt’s Olympic record of 9.63 sec.
Blake was gracious in defeat. The 22-year-old – nicknamed “the beast” by Bolt due to his intense training – added: “He is the fastest man in the world and I’ve got a silver medal. What more can I ask for? To be the second-fastest man in the world behind Bolt is an honour.”
And in the women’s 100, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Veronica Campbell-Brown, both from Jamaica, took gold and silver, with 10.75sec and 10.81sec respectively.
To put things into perspective, it is a bit like Belgachia Villa Milk Colony bagging four medals for India in the men’s and women’s 100m finals. Admittedly, there are not too many people with Bolt’s height — 6ft 5in — wandering round Dotto Bagan Mor.
Jamaican prime minister Portia Simpson Miller (who wants her island state to break the connection with the crown and become a republic) described her country’s success as “just marvellous”.
In the Jamaican capital, Kingston, thousands had gathered in the national stadium to watch the race.
“I am so proud and so happy and pleased at the victory of Usain and young Blake,” said Jamaica’s feisty equivalent of Mamata. “It’s a serious achievement, an excellent achievement, particularly coming on the heels of our independence celebrations.”
In London, there were those who were confident that Bolt would win when they saw him “slightly clowning around” in the semi-final heats.
“This gold means I am one step closer to being a legend so I’m working toward that,” joked Bolt. “That’s just one step, I have the 200m to go so I can’t celebrate.”
Asked if it was sweeter for coming as Jamaica celebrates the 50th anniversary of its independence, the 25-year-old replied: “The reason it’s sweeter is because a lot of guys doubted me so I had to show the world I am the greatest.”
For a moment, he sounded like Mohammed Ali, though he didn’t also go on, “I’m the purtiest.”
The doubts surfaced after Bolt lost twice to Blake at the Olympic trials and subsequently underwent treatment for a stiff back which was causing hamstring problems.
“It means a lot because there were a lot of people doubting me, it was great to come out and show I am still number one, I am still the best,” added Bolt. He revealed he had revived his Beijing “diet” of chicken nuggets and even the odd chicken wrap – “it had vegetables too, don’t judge me” he laughed – from a certain Olympic sponsor. “I’ve said it from the start, people can talk, all they can do is talk. I tell you people that when it comes to the championships it’s all about business to me and I brought it.
The trials woke me up. Yohan gave me a wake-up call. He knocked on my door and said ‘Usain, this is an Olympic year, wake up.’ So I am grateful for that moment because after that I got my head together, got my head in the game.”
Bolt said he had really enjoyed being in the athletes’ village but was irritated by the amount of British red tape.
He explained: “The Games have been okay, a little bit different from Beijing. There are a lot of rules, oh my God. You can’t do anything. I was coming and wanted to bring my tablets in and they said I couldn’t. I asked why. It is just a rule.”
He went on: “I had my skipping rope in my bag and they said I can’t bring it in. Why? It is just a rule. What if I need to take a rubber band inside to stretch I can’t take it inside because it is a rule. It is just very small rules that don’t make any sense to me.”
Bolt said he even encountered the rules at the start of the 100m. “The guy was telling us to line up. We were about to race and we were being told to stand in a straight line. It is kind of weird.”
But he was pleased to be in London. “Great Britain is a wonderful place. They’ve done so well, I’ve been watching the cycling and the rowing. It's just a great Olympics, it’s just a great place.”