Usain Bolt, usually the personification of confidence, admitted he was tense before the start of the men’s 100-meter dash as he warmed up inside Olympic Stadium. He kept flashing back to his false-start disqualification at last summer’s world championships, which prompted all the clucking that he was done.
But when Bolt was introduced to 80,000 spectators, and they responded the way fans used to respond to The Beatles, the track was transformed to stage and Bolt, the man with lightning in his legs, was ready to perform.
“It was game time,” he said.
It was also game time for Sanya Richards-Ross, who grew up in Pembroke Pines. Richards-Ross, 27, a native of Jamaica, won her first individual Olympic gold medal in her specialty, the 400 meters. She can finally put her disappointment of her third-place finish in Beijing behind her.
Meanwhile, Bolt ran away from the opposition in 9.63 seconds, the second-fastest time in history to only, why, Usain Bolt, of course, who ran a world-record 9.58 in 2009, supplanting his 9.69 at the Beijing Olympics, when he promenaded to victory.
Bolt is not done. Unless something goes wrong, he will win the London Games 200 meters, too, and anchor Jamaica to first in the 400 relay for another three trips to the top of the medal podium. On the 50th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence from England, no less.
A long shadow
Bolt is a spectacular 6-5 revolution in the physics of sprinting. When he gets those extra-long levers turning, no one can keep up with him. As his rivals decelerate, he’s taking 41 strides to their 44.
On a 65-degree Sunday night, Bolt climbed out of the blocks — the weakest part of his race — and was in the middle of a premier pack of sub-10-second sprinters. But at 50 meters, he glided into the lead. With 30 to go, he bounded ahead and had such a comfortable margin by the end that he thought about an encore of his Beijing show.
“I almost did it,” Bolt said. “But then it popped into my head — world record. I looked at the scoreboard clock and knew it was too late, but I ran through the finish line.”
Bolt proved he is not only the consummate sprinter but the consummate clutch athlete, as well. His relaxed, playful demeanor hides his desire to be, as he has stated, a legend.
That’s a tall order to fill, but Bolt doesn’t suffer from excessive angst, enabling him to find that tricky sprinters’ balance: Relax while generating turbine power.
He trusts his coach, Glen Mills, a former math teacher, and gets pushed by his training partner, Yohan Blake, 22, who idolized Bolt, then beat him at Jamaica’s trials.
Bolt was not the only athlete who refused to succumb to doubt on Sunday, one of the grandest days of the Olympics for its original sport. Richards-Ross won gold in the event she has dominated — the 400 meters, which is part sprint, part torture. Richards-Ross, a Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas High alum, has run more sub-50-second quarter miles than any other woman, but until Sunday, she had not won the race she and her family had worked for since she was 10 years old.
The enormity of the Olympics is like that of the Super Bowl, said Richards-Ross’ husband Aaron Ross, and he knows because he was a two-time Super Bowl winner with the New York Giants.
On Sunday morning, joined by their pastor who flew in from GMZ Church in Austin, Richards-Ross and her family prayed, and Ross read an inspirational message he wrote for her.
“He brought everyone to tears,” said Archie Richards, father of Sanya, a former Jamaican soccer player who has nurtured his little girl’s dream by making her vegetable juices every day, converting their Pembroke Pines garage into a weight room, and accompanying her from Austin to Waco, Texas, for practices with coach Clyde Hart.
“It’s been a long journey,” Archie said.
It wound through years of fatigue, joint pain, skin lesions and mouth sores originally diagnosed as Bechet’s disease. It led to London, where Richards-Ross celebrated with 40 friends and relatives and American and Jamaican fans. She could win a fourth Olympic gold in the 1,600-meter relay before it’s over.
Bolt delighted fans by high-fiving them, somersaulting, wearing a Jamaican flag like a cartoon hero’s cape and striking his archer’s pose.
“He’s a showman,” bronze medalist Justin Gatlin said, gracious in defeat. “Is it arrogant or cocky? I think it’s entertainment, and people pay good money to see it.”
For Bolt, showtime is his time to break the speed limit. Hold your breath. Here he comes.