James Corrigan: Cram gives perfect closure after Usain has bolted

View From The Sofa: Athletics, BBC
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The Independent Culture

Denise Lewis called it nicely. "This is the Usain Bolt Show," said our once golden, once spray-paint girl. "He's the director, he's the producer, he's the actor."

Denise could have gone on to say that Bolt was also the summariser. But then, in these times it's all about job preservation and Denise is aware that her options would be limited in the marketplace. Well, heptathletes have never been known for their versatility.

The BBC could just have left a five-minute window in its schedule and cut, without theme tune, graphics or cheesy intro, straight to Crystal Palace and pointed a camera at the Jamaican sprinter. Bolt would have taken over thereafter.

Before the race he performs that Cupid-does-Ta Chi routine of pointing to the sky, then comes the funny face, then comes the serious face, then comes the bit when there's a loud bang followed by a blurred vision of arms and legs and then comes the post-race routine, which is much the same as the pre-race routine, only it begins 10 yards before the line. You could set your watch by it.

Yet it appears original every time and never ceases to amaze. Although perhaps it will cease to amaze and the scepticism that shrouds athletics, cycling and most other sacred Olympics sports nowadays will do the ceasing. But for now, "never" seems appropriate.

On Saturday, three people I knew stopped to ask if I'd seen Bolt the night before; which isn't a bad ratio, seeing as on Saturday I only saw four people I knew. Bolt has that effect on viewers. He needs to be viewed. That is a requirement for some great athletes and not for others. While Michael Johnson had to be watched on telly, Jonathan Edwards was just as impressive on radio. Colin Jackson – telly. Linford Christie – radio. Paula Radcliffe – telly. Kelly Holmes – radio. Fatima Whitbread – Teletext...

With Bolt, seeing truly is disbelieving. He has the freak factor only a few possess. Maradona, Lomu, Mike Tyson ... the comic books have come to life. Just blow that whistle, ring, that bell, fire that gun and stand back. Those childhood fantasies are right there in front of you.

But whatever Denise says and however tempted presenter-envious columnists such as this are tempted to agree, these sporting Loony Tunes are only complete with their narrative. Somebody needs to announce "That's all, folks!" And Steve Cram did so on Friday quite beautifully.

Cram is up there with John McEnroe in talking his game as good as he played it. Except it's a little more than that. While Cram might have been born to run the 1500m, he was resurrected to be descriptive in the sporting afterlife. Intriguingly, he has the instinct of a commentator and not of an analyst. He knows which words the moment requires and, more importantly, knows how to deliver them. Cram needs to be heard, but is almost as enjoyably read.

"9.92 into a serious headwind," came the incredulous cry. "He laughs, we draw breath and once again wonder at this man. Who can live with him? The flags fly, the Jamaican colours light up Crystal Palace and Usain Bolt continues on a journey, which perhaps only he knows where it will end. His dominance is total. He shows he hasn't just the speed, but the strength when the wind is in his face. No, not even the weather can slow down Usain Bolt."

Cram and Bolt. They may sound like a jewellery gang from an Ealing comedy, but they are, in fact, BBC's sport most promising double act. Let us pray the Lightning keeps striking.

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