Sport On TV: Bolt's brilliant explosion doesn't go unnoticed as commentators go ballistic
Monday 18 August 2008
You may have missed the big story from the Bird's Nest over the weekend – the explosion that occurred in the stadium after Usain Bolt's victory in the 100m on Saturday. You'd have thought the Chinese officials, obsessed as they are with security, might have picked up on it. Fortunately, Steve Cram of the BBC was there as history's witness.
"And he goes ballistic!" the former "Jarrow Arrow" roared as Bolt lapped up the adulation of the crowd. "In all senses of the word!" All senses? "Athlete blows up, takes several spectators with him" might even have trumped "Lightning Bolt" in the headline department.
Cram then made a confession that commentators really should avoid if possible: "I'm almost lost for words." He did the same a few hours later when Paula Radcliffe limped home in 23rd place in the marathon. "I don't really know what else to say," he admitted.
He is, in fact, quite a bit better than that. He'd set up the Bolt race nicely. "Twenty years ago in 1988 in Seoul, the world perhaps began to lose a little faith in what it was watching," he said as the runners took to their marks. "This race could go a long way to restoring that faith. The words have been written and opinions given. Now you get the chance, perhaps, to see history in the making." Spot-on, as we now know. He added: "Maurice Greene says Usain Bolt can make mistakes and still win this." Not to mention spending the last 10 metres getting the post-race party into gear.
Even more spot-on beforehand was Michael Johnson, up in the gods with Sue Barker and Colin Jackson. There would be a world record, he assured us. "I think it'll go below 9.7," he said. "I think we'll see 9.69." Very shoddy, in fact – he didn't foresee that it was going to be a rounded-up 9.69.
If Cram was lost for words, so was his colleague Stuart Storey. "I have a feeling new superlatives are required," he said. "We talk about great" – at which, lexicographers up and down the land scrambled for their notebooks – "that was truly great."
Cram was right in one respect with his words before the race: the defining image of the 100m has been Ben Johnson's raised finger and sideways look at Carl Lewis as he crossed the line in Seoul. Now, it will be Bolt's victory jig, notable for being performed during the race – and his beautiful, apparently effortless loose-limbed style. As Cram put it, "when the men walked out, Usain Bolt looked like he was heading to the beach. The others looked like they were heading for bad news."
As was Radcliffe, on a hazy grey marathon morning. "It's a very sad sight," Cram said as she wept on Liz Yelling's shoulder. "But she's epitomised the Olympic spirit. She's finished her event, in 23rd place, clearly in pain and agony."
There was plenty of that at the rowing – in Gary Herbert's commentary box, at least. Famed for his emotional crescendo when Redgrave and Co won four years ago, he all but lost his voice when the men's four were heading for victory on Saturday.
"Whatever you're doing, jump up and scream at the TV!" he yelled. "The British are coming! The British are coming!" They were, too. It was that kind of weekend.
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