Superman cometh

Superman cometh

Superman cometh

Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt

One of the most memorable moments of the 12th World Championships in athletics came not from the blue track of the Olympic Stadium but from the victory podium high up on the southern stand. It was the medal presentation ceremony for the men’s 200 metres winners and as Usain Bolt received his reward, the entire crowd stood up and sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to the man who has changed the face of his sport.

It wasn’t an unusual or a spontaneous gesture, for the fans had been prompted by an announcement at the venue but the warmth, the affection, the joy in the chorus revealed their feelings towards the Jamaican who lifted these championships to a different level.

Indeed, Berlin was on Planet Bolt over the last eight days and athletics could not have asked for a better advertisement than the rangy 23-year-old’s incredible performances in the 100 and 200 metres finals. In 9.58 seconds in the 100M and 19.19 in the longer dash, Bolt altered the sprinting equations for the second time in a year, after his fabulous runs at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

First Beijing and now Berlin have highlighted not only gap between Bolt and his rivals but it has also thrown light on the incredible potential of the Jamaican who still has a long way to go before he hangs up his spikes. When he says “anything is possible” in his typical Caribbean drawl, mind boggles as to where the sprint records will be by the time Bolt is done with his bit in the fast lane.

The fans simply love him and it’s not just his running alone. Expressive as well as explosive, the cameras love the Jamaican as he clowns around at the start and his archer-like pose, aiming an imaginary arrow to the skies, has quickly caught on among other athletes as well.

However, for a frequent visitor to Cloud Nine, Bolt’s feet are firmly on the ground. He mixes with the fans, jokes around and, as it happened on Friday, goes on an autograph signing session when he could have been back in his room relaxing after his taxing efforts.

International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge might disapprove of his antics but the governing body of athletics is convinced that Bolt is the answer to keep the youth of the world glued to track and field. “Athletes like Usain can do a lot to develop our sport, they are really role models to the youngsters, they are the ambassadors of our sport,” says International Association of Athletics Federation President Lamine Diack.

As Bolt continues on his journey towards his goal, however, his opponents are fast becoming invisible. Just who can challenge this mean machine? Tyson Gay, the man Bolt replaced as the world champion, looked shattered as he sat next to the Jamaican at the 100M press conference, trying to comprehend what hit him.

“For the first time in the history of the sport, you will look like an idiot if you say that you can beat the world record holder,” track legend Michael Johnson writes in his column in London’s Daily Telegraph. “Coaches of some of the world’s best sprinters have a big job from now on to motivate their athletes. And if I was a coach myself, I would have a hard time trying to convince my athlete that he could beat Bolt at 100M,” adds Johnson, whose 200M world record was trampled upon by Bolt in Beijing.

The question is, has Bolt killed off the competition, taking it to a level unimaginable to other runners? Sergey Bubka, the pole vault legend and now senior vice-president of IAAF, bristles at the suggestion. “People like Bolt are not killing sport, they are promoting sport,” he says. “When Bolt is winning by such a big margin, the motivation for the other runners is to work harder and try and catch up with him,” says Bubka, who set 35 world records in his time and whose 6.14M mark, set in 1994, has stood the test of time.

Over the years, the athletics world has seen some fabulous performances, like Bob Beamon’s 1968 leap of 8.90 metres in long jump. People have built long winning streaks too, like Edwin Moses, who was unbeaten in 107 consecutive finals in 400M hurdles. Johnson’s 200M record was believed to be untouchable before Bolt came along.

“When we first started in 2005, Michael Johnson had the world record at 19.32 and everyone was telling us it cannot be broken. It was, and Usain has shown us what can be achieved,” says Wallace Spearmon, the bronze medallist in the 200M.
What should worry Bolt's rivals, however, is that he is just starting his climb, after leaving behind a tale of injuries and putting in plenty of hard work.

Bolt has reaped the reward for that hard work, with 320,000 dollars already in his bank for his exploits here, including 100,000 for each of his two world records. Those marks look unbeatable now, but you never know what can happen with the Jamaican superman on the starting blocks.  “I don’t put limits on myself,” says Bolt and that is invitation enough to keep your eyes locked on the track.

Bolt facts

Age: 23 (date of birth: Aug 21, 1986)
Place of birth: Trelawny, Jamaica

2008 Olympic results
*Two gold medals (100m and 200m)

Career achievements
*Silver medalist, 2007 World

Championships at 200m
*Silver medalist, 2007 World Championships at 4x100m relay

*Previous Olympic result:
Heats, 2004 Olympics (200m)

*Bolt became the ninth man to win the Olympic sprint double and the first since Carl Lewis in 1984.

*He set the 100m world record on May 31, 2008 and broke it again in the Olympic gold medal race in Beijing setting a time of 9.69 seconds. In the 200m he also set a new world record of 19.30 seconds.

*He played cricket at school, his height making him a natural fast bowler. His cricket coach recognized he was also quick on his feet and suggested he try sprinting.

*He won the 2002 world junior 200m title, becoming, at the age of 15, the youngest ever world junior champion. He added the world youth 200m title a year later and obliterated the 200m junior world record, running 19.93 seconds, in 2004.

*Was named the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year for 2009

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