Four months down the line, in the chill of a bleak British midwinter, the memory remains warmingly vivid. It is the Olympastadion in Berlin on the evening of Thursday 20 August 2009 and the World Championship men's 200m final is fast approaching. Usain Bolt enters the arena. The crowd roars with laughter at his every clowning move, relayed by the trackside cameras on to the giant screens at either end of the stadium.
Bolt points to the message and motif printed on the front of his yellow and green T-shirt: the message "Ich bin ein Berlino," next to a cartoon picture of Berlino the bear, the mascot of the 12th athletics World Championships. Of course, the message is a twist on the celebrated soundbite given by John F Kennedy when he visited the city in 1963 after the erection of the Berlin Wall.
"Come and get me," Bolt mouths into a camera before settling into his starting blocks. Some chance. The previous Sunday, in the 100m final, Tyson Gay ran 9.71sec and still could not get anywhere near the Lightning Bolt. On that occasion, Bolt stopped the trackside clock at 9.58sec, an improvement of 0.11sec on the world record figures he had set while slowing down in the Olympic final in Beijing. What might the Jamaican do in the 200m in Berlin? Beat the opposition – the nominal opposition – convincingly. Nobody is shouting the odds about him beating the world record time which he set in the longer event in Beijing, 19.30sec – least of all Bolt himself. After all, he had to strain all the way to the line in the Chinese capital to shave 0.02sec off the supposedly untouchable record that Michael Johnson had established at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. And, by his own admission, he had little specific 200m training behind him, having been ordered to keep off bend running for several weeks after injuring his left foot in a car crash in May.
It is a true measure of the Bolt phenomenon, then, that he proceeds to shoot from his blocks, blitz around the bend and storm to the finish line in a staggering 19.19sec. Bolt is then embraced by Berlino the bear.
On the eve of his 23rd birthday, what is there left for the Lightning Bolt to achieve? "If Queen Elizabeth knighthooded me, I would be Sir Usain Bolt," he muses. "That sounds very nice."
Three to watch
William Sharman: Fourth at the World Championships in 2009, the former timekeeper on the 'Gladiators' TV show has become a major contender as a 110m hurdler.
Dai Greene: Swansea City youth footballer produced patches of world-class form in 2009 plus the promise of becoming a major force in the 400m hurdles.
Christine Ohuruogu: Only fifth in the 400m final at the World Championships after preparations were hamstrung by injury; expect the Olympic champion to bounce back in style in 2010.
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