LONDON — Sprinters are the thoroughbreds of track and field. They are like finely tuned machines. The muscles in the legs can snap like guitar strings when under the pressure sprinters put on themselves.
Sitting right near the finish line in the London stadium I could see the muscles in the face contort, the muscles in the legs extend and flex, and the arms plowing back in forth to help give the body the thrust it needs to travel 100 yards in under 10 seconds.
Although America only fixate on the wonderful athletes that give their heart and soul to track and field every four year, the rest of the world gives the sport the respect it deserves.
So, here in London the arrival of the 100-meter dash was met with frenzied enthusiasm. In fact, reports note that the 100 was witnessed by close to two billion people.
Much of the attention was in part elevated because of the presence of Usain Bolt. I was sitting in the Beijing birdcage in 2008 when the long, lean, super-human Jamaican set three world records in the 100-, 200- and 4×100-meter relays. He became an international star and icon. Here in London there are buses all over London with his likeness on them.
To illustrate just how big this race was, sitting behind me were the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry. The 2012 American Dream Team was in full force. Kobe Bryant, LaBron James, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, to name a few, were standing and high fiving each other after Bolt burned the great 100 field in Olympic or any track meet history.
“The whole world is going to watch this tonight,” James told reporters. “This is the biggest event of them all right here.”
Added Bryant: “This was the one. I had to be here to see this. I respect all the sprinters, but Bolt has that something special.”
This was the first time all eight qualifiers had run under 10 seconds in the preliminaries. There was no hyperbole in recounting just how exciting that nine second race was.
In between the four years since Beijing, the 6-foot-5 Bolt has seen his training partner and fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake beat him in competition, and there were also some injury concerns.
Plus world-class sprinters Blake, Justin Gatlin, Tyson Gay, Richard Thompson, Asafa Powell, Ryan Bailey and Churandy Martina all were performing at personal best and healthy. This fact made the race that more intriguing.
The race did not disappoint as Bolt, who ran that sixth fastest time in preliminaries, took his one-of-a-kind long stride into overdrive to pull away from the very even pack only about 10 yards from the finish line. He surged after his typical lumbering break from the blocks and overwhelmed a star-studded field to win in 9.63 seconds Sunday night, the second-fastest 100 in history and an Olympic record that let him join Carl Lewis as the only men with consecutive gold medals in the Summer Games’ marquee track event.
“This means a lot because a lot of people were doubting me,” Bolt said after his historic run. A lot of people were saying I wasn’t going to win, I didn’t look good. There was a lot of talk. It’s an even greater feeling to come out here and defend my title and show the world I’m still No. 1.”
Bolt’s victory in the 100 four years ago began a stretch of dominance by Jamaica, an island nation of three million people that now owns seven of the last eight Olympic men’s and women’s sprinting golds, including relays.
I just do not get it. What are they putting in the water or food to do what they have done? It is an incredible story — a very small country taking the world to task in the sprints, especially the Americans.