On day 13 of the 2012 London Olympics, Usain Bolt became the first ever man to do a track and field double-double, as he claimed the 200m title to add to his 100m crown. But on the night Bolt, in his own words, “became a legend” the greatest showman on earth was brilliantly, wonderfully upstaged.
London’s Olympics has been an undoubted success, but despite the quick track and enthralling competition the Olympic Stadium, by day 12, had seen no world records. Of course world records aren’t necessary for a great Olympics, but sport is driven by narrative and stadiums thrive on past glories. World records are a definitive stamp in the history books.
Just less than an hour before Bolt entered the arena to raucous noise, accompanied by Jamaican flags wherever you looked, the British fans had almost blown the roof off to greet Andrew Osagie. The young 800m runner in his first Olympics had minimal chance of winning a medal, let along claiming gold, but the atmosphere in London has been such that it has almost become a competition between the different venues to give the Brits the biggest welcome.
The roar 1 minute and 49 seconds later was even louder, but it wasn’t for a Brit. It was for the gold medal winner, and first athlete to break a world record in the Olympic Stadium: David Lekuta Rudisha.
It’s generally acknowledged that leading from the front isn’t a great tactic in middle-distance running. Rudisha, the only male athlete who can challenge Mo Farah as a picture of natural, fluid movement, wasn’t interested in other people’s tactics. By the end of the opening corner he was in the lead, and from that point on never looked in trouble.
As he rounded the final corner he had a massive lead, and the only thing on his mind, and the mind of the upstanding crowd screaming their support, was his own world record time of 1:41:11.
Rudisha ran 1:40:91. Not only did he break the world record, but Nijel Amos, the 18-year-old Botswanan who finished second, broke the junior world record. Between all eight men in the race only Abubaker Kaki, the Sudanese who finished seventh, didn’t run a personal best. Seb Coe, London 2012 big cheese and former 800m world record holder, said Rudisha’s performance was: “The outstanding performance of the Games.”
As a charismatic extrovert, as well as phenomenal athlete, Bolt will always dominate the headlines. He, along with Yohan Blake and Warren Weir, had stolen the evening from the Americans. Prior to the 200m final there had been three gold medal presentations for American athletes, and through the course of the evening Christian Taylor (triple jump) and Ashton Eaton (decathlon) claimed Olympic titles.
The evening was threatening to become the athletic version of a Roland Emmerich film, with the star-spangled banner waving proudly above everyone and everything, until three men from Jamaica gate crashed the party and made it their own.
But look beyond the glamour and bombast of the sprint, and the sheer number of gold medals the USA won, and August 9 was Rudisha’s night. The Kenyan ran his beautiful, supremely confident race at (by my very dodgy maths) approximately 24 kilometres per hour. Try that pace on a treadmill and see how long you last.
Rudisha dragged the rest of the field around with him so quickly that the brave Amos needed paramedic assistance after he finished. Osagie, rightly, was delighted to have stayed with the field and ran a personal best. His time puts his fourth in the all-time UK rankings, and would have won him gold in the past three Olympics.
Bolt attracted more attention in his press conference, mixing humour with a touch of controversy. But in the same way that Rudisha’s less heralded performance was arguably greater, his post-race thoughts were arguably more interesting: “His [Bolt’s] speciality is 100m and 200m, I am good at 800m. Maybe one time we can meet at 400 and compete for fun. That would be great.”
If the race happens, don’t bet against Rudisha upstaging Bolt in that as well.