James Lawton: Bolt elevates an already 'great Olympics' to highest rank

Usain Bolt has been the man who carried us higher, faster and stronger

It wasn't as though Usain Bolt had to address a shortfall of heroes. He had only to confirm his status as the fastest, most phenomenal athlete in the history of the Olympics and when he did this so beautifully, so witheringly, we could finally relax, truly, about the status of London 2012.

No Olympics can aspire to the highest rank without the imprint of the greatest of competitors and while the traditional pass-mark commendation of a "great Games", when IOC president Jacques Rogge addresses the world at Sunday's closing ceremony was already assured, Bolt held out the promise of something more.

It was more of the oxygen which allowed all who cared about the meaning of sport to breathe more easily under the weight of Chinese authoritarianism in Beijing four years ago.

Bolt supplied it in great draughts when he astounded the world in the Bird's Nest stadium and this week the intervening years just shrivelled away.

We were back in that same state of wonder – eyes flashing to the electronic message board confirming the evidence of our eyes, which was that if Bolt had suffered troubling days since his last stunning world record win in Berlin three years ago, he had still performed miraculously well enough to smash his own Olympic mark.

It was interesting that when he finally closed down his various speeches to the world – we were well into the early hours of an ecstatic Jamaica's 50th Independence Day by then – he was less of the carefree vaudevillian and more of the sports statesman.

He did briefly join in the applause of the world's media before telling us that Thursday's 200 metres final represents the second leg of his ambition to become a legend. It sounded, just a bit, like Shakespeare aspiring to become a book of the month selection.

Bolt was for the ages when he chewed on his chicken nuggets in a celebratory feast in Beijing. Here he simply invited us to consider once again the extent of his impact, his life force in an event which has been restored as the single most compelling sub-10 seconds in all of sport.

Crucial to such contemplation is a sense of the twin responses to his breathtaking dash in Beijing. One was the elation which accompanies the certainty that you have seen something utterly exceptional.

The other was the fear that you might be duped.

That second reaction was more oppressive if you had happened to be in Seoul 20 years earlier when Ben Johnson made a run which, in its time, was no less sensational.

Certainly, it left the great Olympian Carl Lewis wide-eyed and slack-jawed as he trailed in a distant second. That Johnson, yellow-eyed and numb, tested positive was of course the single most damaging blow in the history of the Olympic competition.

Yet each day that passes in the wake of Bolt's supreme performances and his status remains clean is a deliverance we should not so easily forget.

If there was any tendency to do that in the wee hours of yesterday the bronze medallist American Justin Gatlin, a convicted doper who served a four-year suspension, was quick to draw us back to the recent, perilous past. At least that had to be the inference when he said how proud he was, at this late hour, to be part of a great moment in the history of sport.

This also reminded us that Bolt had not only reached out to the future but also delivered a kind of liberation. He had freed us to believe again in the most epic achievement.

For these Olympics it is the gift he promised and the one he has unearthed from a gloriously intriguing set of circumstances. If he mocked the idea that he was vulnerable to the extreme talent of his young compatriot Yohan Blake, he had also made his contribution to the doubts.

These were all but dispelled in the serenity of his progress through the semi-finals, after which the bookmakers took advice and changed his odds from 8-11 to 2-7, but enough of them lingered, at least in some minds, to fuel the acclaim when he slaughtered the field.

It was his gift to the Olympics, his huge reminder that if we have, maybe understandably, become preoccupied with domestic glory, there is a wider, deeper yearning beyond the league table of medals.

This is for the lineage of the greatest Olympic champions to come alive before our own eyes on our own soil.

Michael Johnson performed such a feat for the least uplifting of modern Olympics, the commercial, bomb-darkened beanfeast of Atlanta in 1996, when the reigning IOC president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, pointedly refused to offer the saving description of a "great Games".

Here Bolt hasn't been a saviour –the need for that was already fading after the embarrassments of security recruitment and empty seats were consumed by the brilliance of the home army on so many Olympic fronts. He has been the supreme enhancer, the man who carried us higher, faster and stronger in the belief that anything is possible.

In Jamaica he has no doubt provoked a thousand calypsos. Here, he has simply made everybody pleased to be alive when an improbably great athlete passed by.

In the end, Bolt wasn't required to rescue these Olympics Games. It was enough that he should illuminate their every corner.

Murray has grown up in fine style

It will take more than Andy Murray's superb gold medal performance to persuade some of us that tennis, any more than golf, should be part of the Olympics, but this is not to diminish the significance of his defeat of Roger Federer.

At Wimbledon a few weeks ago Murray delivered the most convincing evidence so far that he might indeed produce enough of his game to win a Grand Slam tournament.

Now he has shown that on an indisputably important occasion, against the best of opposition, he can play to all his strengths. It is a great triumph not only for an extremely gifted sportsman but one who has looked at himself with a severely critical eye before it was too late.

The steely old champion Ivan Lendl should also take a huge bow here.

For a quiet man, Lendl has spoken with a thunderous voice. He said it was, competitively speaking, time to grow up. As rites of passage go, an Olympic medal is certainly a most decent start.

16 years on, the fire burns bright in Ben

Sixteen years ago a teenaged member of the Great Britain team seemed a little startled to be visited by a party of raddled refugees from the Atlanta Games. They had driven from Atlanta to Savannah, the agreeable hometown of the celebrated lyricist Johnny Mercer, and wanted to know if this precocious youngster might just help out his nation's lamentably small haul of medals while fiddling around in his little boat, which was apparently called a laser.

That would also have been a fair description of the eyes he turned on some of his less informed interrogators. However, he did say that if he failed, it wouldn't be for any lack of effort. Later, in the piano bar, someone remarked that the boy did seem extremely focused on the task in hand. He had enough of it, certainly, to win a silver medal – the precursor of an endless stream of gold. Ben Ainslie, in less pressing circumstances, might have borrowed the Mercer lines, "Moon River, wider than a mile, I'm crossing you in style some day".

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Danish director Lars von Trier
tvEnglish-language series with 'huge' international cast set for 2016
Life and Style
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering