(This was one of a series of daily columns I wrote during the 2012 Olympics in London)
We should thank our blessings. What if the fastest man in the world hadn’t been born with the surname Bolt? What if he had been called Plod? Usain Plod. That would have stuffed a few headlines. It would have been hell for commentators. “Plod! It’s Plod with 10-metres to go! Plod is god!” But he was called Bolt and it was meant to be.
You think that Bolt could have been called anything and he still would have been the quickest man in the world. He’s a bolt of lightning from the sky, they scream. Hey, he could have been called Usain Storm, which would have meant he would have been from the Stormer family and have proven than not every Stormer finishes second. He was born a bolt and a bolt he is. He lives his name.
On Sunday night, before Bolt had looked his doubters in the eye and slapped them around the chops, another athlete with an appropriate name took her marks, got set and then didn’t go far. The Bulgarian 400m hurdler hit the first jump hard and fell to the ground in a crumpled heap, her Olympics over almost over before they had begun. Four years of training, of pain and suffering, of dieting and dreaming, and in a trip and a crash she was out. In the stands they all groaned for her. In the press tribune we looked up her name on the start sheet. Jesus. Are you kidding? She was one Vania Stambolova. Stambolova. You shouldn’t laugh, but…ah, heck, why not. There were also three women in the high jump whose names ended in “ova”. Later this week they will be hoping that their names start with “Upand” and “Get”.
Sunday night, though, was all about Bolt. He played the night beautifully. He has managed to make it all look so easy down the years, like he’s not really trying. In Beijing there was a suggestion that he wasn’t trying as he began celebrating with 30-metres left to run. Afterwards replays showed that his shoelace had been untied. Heck, he had time to stop and tie it with a double knot and still win gold.
In London they had doubted him. Maurice Greene, who won gold in the 100m in Sydney and silver in Athens, wrote in the Sunday Times of London that Yohan Blake would win and Bolt would be second. The rest would be fighting for bronze, he wrote. Then he watched him run in last night’s semifinals and changec his mind. Bolt had fixed what is wrong with his running, he said. Must have been a screw loose, or a bolt that needed fastening…sorry, couldn’t help myself.
If they are ahead and assured of qualifying, sprinters like to ease up in the final 10-metres in the heats and semifinal. It drives me bonkers. I want to see full gas to the finish line. I want to see them flat-box the accelerator as they hit the line. I want to see a world record broken. I don’t want to sit and wonder what might have been had Bolt not had enough time to stop for smoke with 10 metres to run.
But he was forgiven by the time the final came around. He played it magnificently. He bumped fists with the volunteer who was holding the basket into which he dropped his tracksuit and smiled at him. Then waited as the camera moved down the line, getting the reaction of the challengers to the king. Asafa Powell scowled and squinted at the camera as though it was the unlikeable Justin Gatlin. Gatlin was a few lanes away from Powell, and when was introduced he walked up to the camera and gave it dismissive look. Blake’s pre-race introduction could have been an imitation of a volcano, but I could be mistaken.
Then came Bolt. And the rest knew they were done. He used his fingers to make a little running hand puppet. The he was a DJ, spinning the vinyl, and then he holstered a gun and threw in what could have been shadow boxing. That’s it. Race over, there and then. On your marks, get set and Bolt. Perhaps they should change the name of the start in athletics to suit the king. That would be the least he deserves.