Beating the clock: Usain Bolt anchors the Jamaican sprint relay team to the world title in the fastest time ever. London 2012 Olympics: Usain Bolt can set the Games alight, says Sebastian Coe It was like the return of Beatlemania. By Sebastian Coe
05 Sep 2011
In Daegu Stadium at the World Championships on Sunday night, I watched a host of kids aged about 11 or 12 screaming with excitement and fighting to get near Usain Bolt after his quite stupendous 200 metres triumph and couldn’t help casting my mind forward to London next year. The Muhammad Ali of athletics is on his way to an Olympic Stadium near you.
It just reinforced for me how fantastic it could be to have Bolt there. There really is an Ali-like aura about this guy that is now transcending all sports.
If I was going into schools four years ago talking about the Olympics, they weren’t interested in too many Olympians then — it was Lewis Hamilton, Roger Federer, David Beckham, people like that. Now it’s Usain. He feels more important than any of them and here was a glorious reminder why, all things being equal, he’ll be the iconic figure of our Games.
I’ve spoken to him and he’s told me how he wants to blow people’s minds in London, to make yet another extraordinary impact that will cement the status of legend that he wants for himself.
London is consuming him; I know he’s going to base himself in England for quite a while before the Games.
In a funny way, that false start in the 100m has only really added to his lustre because now he has to win back his crown. We thought he was untouchable but it showed a little vulnerability to accompany the genius that we saw in the 200 and the Jamaican relay world record.
For all the showmanship, I’ve never seen anyone in this sport who can switch from showman to serious performer at the click of a finger. This is a made-for-TV performance. You see him play up to the camera when it’s trained on him in lane five or six but as soon as it disappears, he switches to complete focus.
I sat in call rooms for years with very different character types but when you have someone such as Bolt doing what he did in Beijing, finding a mouse and then chasing it around for half an hour, imagine what that does to the rest of his opponents’ psyche. It’s not gamesmanship; it’s just what relaxes him.
In a way, this has just been his comeback year but, in London, he’ll be attacking again. I know we’re going to have a super-fast track, technology at its best, and, with a bit of luck with the weather, he will clearly be capable of a renewed assault on both his world records.
No man has ever successfully defended both Olympic 100m and 200m titles; do not bet against Bolt doing it.
Actually, in many respects, the fact he is such a standout competitor and will have such a searing spotlight on him might actually help to shield some of our British athletes. He is going to be the picture child of the Games and if you’re Jess Ennis or Mo Farah, it’s probably not unhelpful having Bolt hogging the limelight.
But after what I felt was a terrific championship, with great races and compelling head-to-heads, it wasn’t just Bolt we can savour.
We’ve been scratching around in the sport for standout athletes but I think we saw that we’ve probably got more marketable talent internationally than we’ve had for a long time in Bolt and performers such as David Rudisha, Kirani James and Sally Pearson, as well as Farah.
Forty-one countries won medals, 16 of them gold, including a Brazilian vaulter, a New Zealand shot putter, a Japanese hammer thrower, a Grenadian sprinter and a Botswanan quarter-miler, as well as runners from Africa, walkers from Russia and jumpers from the US.
No other sport has this reach and, unquestionably, I believe winning a gold medal at these championships is tougher than at any other sport. The whole world runs.
So we need to remember how hard it will be to strike gold. Yet I was always confident we would have a British athletics champion to hail in 2012 and the action in Daegu has only reinforced that for me.
If you think of these championships in 2007 in Osaka and compare this crop of athletes headed by our new champions Dai Greene and Farah, nobody could conclude anything other than that this is a seismically different team in terms of performance and mindset.