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The Greatest Show on Earth is Usain in the Membrane

When, in the year 2100, the world looks back on the twenty-first century it will no doubt rank the exploits of Usain Bolt and the 2012 Olympic 100 metre final as a seminal moment in our planet’s sporting history. Never before had such a talented field come together; over a century of sporting advancement, it seemed, culminated in this moment on the 5th August 2012 at London’s magnificent Olympic Stadium. Never before had a champion proved his worth and majesty as much as Bolt did in this final.

Coming into the games Bolt’s place at the top of sprinting had come under severe scrutiny after a double defeat to his training partner, 22 year-old Yohan Blake, at the Jamaican trials. This, coupled with the fact that Bolt had admitted in a press conference at the Games’ inception that he was ‘only 95% fit’, led many to believe that Bolt’s hegemony was at an end. Stormy clouds gathered over the Olympic champion as the media began to question further his commitment to training and general work ethic. Younger, more muscular, more diligent, less distracted- Blake had become an attractive bet for the Olympic title. Going into the games, the mens’ 100 metres was a two-horse race.

As it panned out of course Bolt’s dynasty was restored in all its glory. Bolt sat in the blocks longer than he would have liked, fearing a false start and subsequent disqualification that had blemished his near perfect record at the world championships in Daegu last summer. As a result the 6’ 5’’ Jamaican was slightly behind, but by forty metres it was clear that Bolt was going to emerge victorious. Blake, Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay all looked strong but their top speeds were not even close to that of Bolt who ran away from then on to place an Olympic record of 9.63 seconds. As Michael Johnson had noted, the Blake-Bolt rivalry was something nice for the media to talk about because Bolt winning comfortably is boring. This rule was proved wrong as this final was the greatest show on earth.

Ultimately, if Bolt runs under 9.7 seconds, no one will touch him. His greatest rivals have never done so: Yohan Blake (9.75), Justin Gatlin (9.79), Tyson Gay (9.71), and Asafa Powell (9.72). Of these, the Americans, Gatlin and Gay, are thirty and only going to get slower and Powell will never be a champion because he does not possess the mental strength; in a race against someone close to parity with him Powell tightens and clinches defeat from the jaws of victory all on his own. Yes, Bolt may have been at 95% fitness, but this is irrelevant. In Beijing Bolt ran at 75% for forty metres and broke the world record; Bolt does not need to be at 100% as the others do to win. What was clear is that Bolt’s top speed is so much higher than everyone else’s it is difficult to see what anyone, even Blake, could do to stop him.

A mention must be outstretched to the rest of the field. This was the fastest 100 metre race in history with every man, bar the injured Powell, clocking under ten seconds, it was the fastest field ever assembled with every man having gone under ten seconds this season and it featured the four fastest men in history in the three Jamaicans and Gay; by the end of the race it was the fastest five after the 9.79 ran by Gatlin. The current crop of sprinters is the greatest there has ever been by some distance. Eighteen men this season have clocked under the ten second barrier and seven have ran faster than 9.9 seconds.

Now, Bolt himself is the greatest threat to his domination. The willingness to train religiously and endure the strict rigours of a professional athlete’s life has been known to waver in Bolt and he has frequently admitted that training partner Blake trains harder than he does himself. What does he have left to achieve? He holds the world record in three events, is double Olympic champion in three events and next year in Moscow will no doubt become the triple world champion again as well. Beyond that where does his motivation stem from? If he won an unprecedented third sprint treble in Rio de Janeiro at the 2016 Games, he would have won the greatest battle of them all, the battle of the mind.

For now, Steve Cram’s ‘the champion becomes a legend’ is the piece of commentary that will best define and emphasise the Leviathan that Usain Bolt has become in sporting history.

William Cook

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