When Usain Bolt flew in to Beijing before the start of the Olympic Games in 2008, there was just a handful of camera crews waiting to receive him at the airport.
By the time the Jamaican
sprinter left Beijing a few weeks later, pretty much every camera in the city was trained on him.
At the start of 2008, the talk was of a 100m
showdown in Beijing between then world record holder Asafa Powell and the explosive American Tyson Gay.
In September 2007 Powell had claimed the outright world record with a blistering run of 9.74secs in Rieti, Italy. He and Gay were developing one of the classic sprint rivalries that make the event the most compelling of them all.
However, one night in New York and Bolt put the cat among the pigeons.
Bolt had long been perceived as a 200m
specialist, winning the world juniors in 2002 and posting a sequence of brilliant times in the 19.70secs region.
But a little over two months before Beijing, Bolt felt the time was right for a concerted crack in the 100m
and he proceeded to take two hundredths of a second off Powell’s best mark.
The world’s press were licking their lips in anticipation of a three-way tussle for gold between Bolt, Powell, and Gay.
Although Gay and Powell were clocking more than decent times in the heats and semi-finals, it was Bolt who was catching the eye and his 9.85secs in the semis, run in a relaxed fashion, marked him out as the favourite.
The world was beginning to see what a showman Bolt was.
As the cameras panned along the row of finalists, Bolt pointed to his ‘serious’ mouth to show how much he was focusing on the task ahead.
As the eight athletes settled on the blocks, there was tense hush in the stadium, with the roar of the gas fuelling the Olympic flame just about the only sound audible to those in the stadium.
The following 9.69secs were to enter into Olympic folklore.
After establishing his smooth running stride at the halfway mark, Bolt flew clear of his rivals and slapped his chest in celebration at around the 80m marker, so complete was his dominance.
It turned out, as replays indicated, that he even ran the race with one of his shoelaces undone.
A star was born, and so was his trademark victory pose. The Games would hear a lot more from this 21-year-old from Kingston.