After watching countless hours of London Olympic coverage–from beach volleyball to artistic gymnastics, swimming, diving, jumping, tennis, shooting, and more–I find the most lasting London memory is the performance of runner Usain Bolt of Jamaica.
What did he achieve? In case you were living under a rock during the saturation coverage of the London Olympics, Bolt, age 25, won gold medals in both the 100 meter and 200 meter races and anchored the 4 x 100 meter relay team that set a new world record (36.84 seconds) while taking gold. He was the first man to repeat wins in the 100 and 200 meter races across two Olympics. And he was the first man in track and field since 1904 to do a “triple double” by winning three different events across two Olympics.
Here is why this one athlete’s achievements, especially his 9.63 second run in the 100 meters (an Olympic record), are so gripping and memorable.
Everyone knows what it feels like to run 100 meters.
It takes no special equipment, no fancy rules, no stretch of the imagination to grasp what it means for a person to run 100 meters down a level track in just 9.63 seconds. We all remember the 100 yard dash from our school days. In my case, I remember struggling mightily to avoid being the last person over the line.
The sprint races are over so quickly that there is no room for error.
To win, everything has to be perfect. The reaction time on the start must be fabulous (but not a false start), the runner must hit a fast pace immediately, not bump into any other runners (and of course not fall), and that lightning pace must be sustained right over the finish line. Deficiencies at any point will allow another runner to succeed. There is no “fudge factor” or “making up for” problems. The whole thing is over in the blink of an eye!
Bolt seemed vulnerable in some races leading up to the Olympics.
Complaining vaguely of being distracted by someone on the start and problems with his back, Usain Bolt was runner up to his Jamaican teammate, Yohan Blake, in the Jamaican qualifying trials for the 100 meter race in June. Earlier, he gave up his world championship title when he was disqualified in the semifinals due to a false start. Although Bolt set the world record time of 9.58 seconds in 2009, he seemed unable to deliver those blisteringly fast runs as the Olympics approached.
Bolt does not behave like a highly focused and self-disciplined athlete.
To be honest, Bolt acts like a goofball much of the time–sometimes a charming goofball, and sometimes an annoying goofball. He got a lot of press for staying up partying in the Olympic village with his attractive female companions dubbed “Bolt’s Beauties.” He has been known to start celebrating before finishing the race and he struts around and talks in the moments just before a major race rather than putting on a game face and focusing on the task at hand. This demeanor makes his ability to perform in the big races even more surprising and memorable.
Bolt ran against some very talented competition in each of the races he won.
The world’s very best well-trained and determined runners show up for the Olympics. This year Bolt not only had to face his own countryman Yohan Blake (world champion), but also some American superstars. Justin Gatlin, Tyson Gay, and Ryan Bailey placed 3rd, 4th, and 5th in the 100 meters, just behind the two Jamaicans. The speedy Americans did the 4 x 100 meter relay in a time equal to the world record (set earlier by Jamaica) but Bolt, Blake, and their relay team set a new world record in order to win.
For all these reasons, I found the Usain Bolt performance at the London Olympics to be the most memorable of the games. I was thrilled by Andy Murray’s Team GB gold medal in men’s tennis and by my fellow Baltimorean’s feats in the pool (Phelps of course), but nothing stands out in my memory like the gazelle-like strides of the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt.
Nancy Miller is a dedicated Olympics fan who remembers every Olympics since childhood and enjoys writing about the sports, pageantry, and tradition of the games.
Other Olympics Articles by Nancy Miller:
The London Olympics: Hope and Glory and Quirky Charm
My Most Shocking Olympic Memory: Mary Decker’s Fall
Five Fascinating Facts about the Olympics in London
Roger Federer’s “Dream Come True” Moment at the Beijing Olympics