Last night the networks could not help themselves. Usain Bolt had completed a “double double.” Suddenly his face was plastered onto every television screen and titled as the greatest sprinter of all time.
He ran a time of 19.32s. That was the same time Michael Johnson ran when he held the world record. It was 0.02s off of the WR Bolt ran in Beijing, and it was even further adrift of his own record of 19.19. He was pushed all the way by teammate Yohan Blake.
Talking to the BBC cameras after the event Bolt told of how he thought he could break the WR, but that he did not feel fit enough and that his back was tight. Despite this, the fawning and the mewling praise dripped like syrup.
This would be fine, with such a supreme athlete proving to the world that he was, indeed, unbeatable in the 100m and 200m events. However, he also failed to deliver on a promise made months in advance. No records have tumbled.
It may sound like an overly critical observer picking holes in someone capable of perfection. Nonetheless, the gripe here is one aimed at athletics and the coverage of it.
Bolt is not only fast; he is a magnetic character who can whip a room into frenzy with jovial anecdotes and posing for cameras. He is the face of athletics and he can sell anything with his smile. For these reasons he must be utilized by networks and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), or they will not reach their target audiences.
So last night he ran a good time, did some press-ups and made executives very, very happy.
The problem was that, only moments before, Kenyan sprinter David Lekuta Rudisha broke his own WR in the 800m final. It was the third time he had broken the record, but more significantly than this it was the only time in these Olympic Games that a record had fallen on the track.
The 800m final will go down as the greatest of all time, with Rudisha pushing so hard that all the other runners got caught in his slipstream. The man who finished dead last, Andrew Osagie of Great Britain, ran a time that would have won the title in Beijing. Every other runner either broke a national record, a season’s best or a lifetime best. Botswana won their first ever Olympic medal. Rudisha ran faster than any human ever has over 800m.
In terms of fame, though, he is a nobody. The pride of the Massai he may be, but outside of Kenya and outside of athletics circles he is little know. David Rudisha delivered the most spectacular moment of the day, perhaps of the entire athletics program. Still he was playing second fiddle to Bolt.