Grand stage of legends, mortals

Focus stays firmly on Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps as 30th Olympiad is all set to unfold in English capital

Grand stage of legends, mortals

One is a giant in the literal sense. The other, literally and figuratively so. Four years ago, the two stormed the Olympic firmament and walked away with the brightest pieces of yellow metal on offer in Beijing. When the two titans return to their favourite stage, the world can only wonder what their next deeds are going to be.

Vastly apart in character and temperament, and competing in different sports, Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps are in familiar territory when it comes to the Olympic Games. Bolt on land and Phelps in water were too hot to touch in Beijing and when Games of the 30th Olympiad begins on Friday, the two will be chasing similar goals.

Bolt has stressed repeatedly in the past that his aim in life is to become a legend of his sport. Thanks to his exceptionally tall deeds, many consider the 6’5’’ Jamaican a legend already but he reckons he needs to defend the gold medals he won in Beijing – in 100M, 200M and 4x100M relay – to be considered one. London will be his chance and despite fitness concerns, he remains upbeat about a glorious Games.

“This will be the moment, and this will be the year when I set myself apart from other athletes in the world. A lot of legends have come before me, but this is my time,” Bolt told Britain’s The Guardian newspaper the other day, revealing his priorities and plans for London.

Indeed, London would love another Bolt act and if he can become the first man to do the 100-200 double in two Olympics, there will be no questions asked about his legendary status in the sport, and his right to be placed on par with some of the greatest Olympians of all-time.

In contrast, Michael Phelps is already there in the pantheon of Olympic legends. Fourteen gold medals in two Games, including a record haul of eight in Beijing alone, speak eloquently of his strength and skills in the pool. Three more to his collection will take him past legendary gymnast Larissa Latynina’s tally of 18, the maximum won by an athlete in Olympic history.

Competing in seven events here, Phelps has little to prove to anyone but hungry as ever, the American can rise above mere mortals here. “I am a lot laidback this time but I still have goals and I still want to win.

There are things I still want to do and that’s why I am here,” Phelps had said the other day as he eyed his chance to sign off his glittering career as the most decorated Olympian in history. Phelps and Bolt will cast their giant shadows but London 2012 is not about the two alone. Stars will rise and stars will fade as the Games progress to their conclusion on August 12, and even the established order will have challengers to dispel in a variety of sports.

London is also an opportunity for some of the biggest names to crown their careers with the tag of Olympic champions. Indeed, it would be a travesty if a Roger Federer or a Serena Williams will have to end their careers without an individual gold medal, and as such, sparks will certainly fly on Wimbledon greens as they try to set the record straight.

“I do believe my situation has got a little star next to it,” Federer had remarked on his career statistic, and having won his seventh Wimbledon crown in supreme style a couple of weeks ago, the Swiss master will have every reason to believe he can erase that asterisk. While London could well be the last chance for Federer, for a clutch of young guns, this is the moment to earn their stripes. The build-up to the Games has thrown up exciting possibilities – American Missy Franklin’s attempt at seven gold medals in the pool being just one of them.

Franklin’s race to earn the Lady Phelps’ tag will be in sharp focus while in the Olympic Stadium, right across the pool, another quest will reach fruition even without the accompaniment of a medal. Oscar Pistorius, the South African double amputee, epitomises the spirit of the Olympic movement itself and when he lines up for the start, a small piece of history would have been made in London. A celebration of youth, the Games is a celebration of human endeavour as well, and in that respect alone, no one can beat this South African – not Bolt, not even Michael Phelps.

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