19.55 seconds was all it took to remind people of the human brilliance of sport. That his name is Usain Bolt and that he holds previous form, simply speaks of a greater legend.
Athletics has had a tough run – if you’ll excuse the pun – of late. The expose of cover ups related to systemic doping and the at times bitter presidential clash of the titans between Sergey Bubka and the ultimately victorious Lord Seb Coe, for the crown of IAAF figurehead, had cut sway of opinion and attention away from the biennial hosting of the Athletics World Championships in Beijing.
These issues haven’t gone. Close to half the field in the men’s 100m final were tainted by drugs indiscretions, but poignantly, the winner of that event too, Usain Bolt, has not.
Lord Coe himself has come under scrutiny this week for his ambassadorial role (worth six-figures) with Nike, with claims ranging from conflict of interest to the altogether more sinister that his commercial support of a brand that sponsors Justin Gatlin – a twice tainted drug cheat – renders his publicly bellicose remarks promising to remove the scourge of doping, to nothing more than a pop-gun whimper.
How refreshing then, that for the fleeting 19.55 seconds of the men’s 200m sprint final, all that mattered within the framed confines of Beijing’s Bird’s Nest, was that the greatest athlete (bold call, but one I’m willing to make) that Olympic sport has seen, literally bolted, like only he can, or has – to a famous victory.
It was almost like a poorly conceived modern adaptation of Shakespeare. The protagonist Bolt, at risk of being usurped by the rapacious Gatlin, sport’s tragedy lay bare. Instead, more befitting of B-grade Hollywood (sorry William), the phoenix did rise from athletics’ ash and for less than 20 seconds, we were reminded why we continue to support this charade of human emotion.
In full clichéd glory, good did beat evil, at least in the sporting context of a running race. 19.55 seconds of Bolt brilliance.
If Bolt is the world-wide personification of track and field’s viability, it should not be lost against the stunning backdrop of what has already been some incredible performances.
Allyson Felix was mesmeric in winning a ninth world title in the 400m, whilst her countryman Christian Taylor went within 8cm of breaking the legendary Jonathon Edwards’ longstanding world record in the men’s triple jump, dating back to 1995.
Athletics has much to do, and even more to answer before it can truly atone for the shortcomings of doping cover-ups, but at least for 19.55 seconds on a Thursday night, it was once again fun.