Quite a scene
About 30,000 fans packed National Stadium for the Jamaica International Invitational in May, passing by the statues of Herb McKenley, Donald Quarrie and Merlene Ottey on their way inside.
Let us use the athletes performances to build our confidence, sneaker-wearing Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller said to open the competition.
It was Bolts first open 100 of the year. At the starting line, he went into his act, dusting off his shoulders, slicking back his hair, kissing his fingers and touching his heart. Then he leaned way back and pulled on his imaginary bow. Spectators laughed along with him, jumped up and down, blew yellow horns and kazoos and knocked noisemakers together. When the four Jamaicans in the eight-man field settled into the blocks, the racket stopped and a murmur of Shhhhh circulated through the stands.
After two false starts not assigned to anybody, Bolt blazed to an easy win in 9.82 seconds, a promising season debut.
Bolt, smiling constantly, waved and clapped. Then he removed his electric green spikes and jogged around the grass embankment adjacent to the stands, shaking hands and slapping palms with fans. Young girls screamed the way they used to when Elvis was nearby.
I enjoy being the center of attention, Bolt said. Its a wonderful feeling to run here. The people give me a lot of love. They truly spur me on.
Blake, Bolts teammate at Racers Track Club, cruised to first in the 200 but Americans won the womens 100 and 200.
The fans were just as energetic or more so for the high school portion of the meet. It was a taste of the four-day interscholastic extravaganza held each March for 102 years known as Champs.
They are traveling well! the PA announcer exclaimed during a 400-meter relay race won by Edwin Allen High. Big cheers for your alma mater!
Miamis Bershawn Jackson, winner of the 400 hurdles, said the atmosphere inside National Stadium is unlike any other.
The intensity is incredible, he said. The fans know the sport. Its the closest thing to a European meet in the Western Hemisphere.
National Stadium is where 15-year-old Bolt saluted an instantly beguiled crowd after winning the 200 at the 2002 junior world championships. At the 2003 Champs meet, he won the 200 and 400 in record time. Four years ago at the Invitational meet, Bolt introduced himself to the world with a 9.76, then the second-fastest time in history. That night, Tyson Gay ran the 200, watched the 6-5 Bolt bound past the field with longer and fewer strides and said: Amazing. This changes the whole picture of our event.
But there was a different outcome on the big blue track last month during Jamaicas Olympic trials. Blake was quicker than Bolt out of the blocks and to the finish line in both the 100 and 200.
The Beast rises
Glen Mills, who coaches Bolt and Blake, later said Bolt had a tender hamstring, which required a trip to Germany and treatment from his longtime doctor, Hans-Wilhelm Muller-Wohlfahrt, known as Healing Hans to dozens of pro athletes.
But the losses got the gossip mill churning. Was Bolt, who likes to dance and DJ at Kingston clubs, partying harder than he was training? Had his $7 million in earnings since Beijing made him complacent? His mansion with half a dozen black vehicles in the driveway is perched high above the stadium in a gated subdivision.