Ninety thousand of us watched as Usain Bolt became the fastest man in history tonight.
I’m not sure what I did to deserve seats in the Bird’s Nest stadium as the world record in the Olympics’ marquee event was broken, but there I was, second level, about 20 rows back, behind the back turn of the nine-lane track. Usain Bolt not only shattered his old world record in the 100-meter dash, he had time to celebrate in the sea of flash bulbs before crossing the finish line.
Usain Bolt. Jamaica. 9.69 seconds. World’s Fastest Man.
I am still trying to put this together in my head. How did I just see one of the greatest achievements — EVER — in the history of sport? Did that really just happen? Why was I there?
We found out earlier this week that the organizing committee was giving out group free tickets to athletics. A line formed outside my professors hotel room door to pick them up the next night. I don’t think anybody could have guessed that the seats would be so good, and nobody had any clue that the world record in the biggest event in the Olympics would be broken by .03 seconds in front of our eyes.
Tonight’s session of athletics lasted about 3.5 hours, culminating with the men’s 100-meter dash final. When the eight fastest men in the world walked out to the track at about 10:20 p.m. tonight the Bird’s Nest took on a new life. Everybody, all 90,000 spectators, stood up to watch. Driving, ceremonial-style music began to fill the air and the buzz of the crowd turned into a roar laden with chants of “USA, USA.”
The sprinters, including former world record holder Asafa Powell of Jamaica and American Walter Dix, basked in the sea of flashing lights under the clear night sky. Since the advent of digital cameras the flash bulb shows up just about everywhere, but this wasn’t just one or two people. This was a 90,000-piece organism that knew something special was coming.
The crowd fell silent just before the runners took their marks. As the eight men stood stoically starring down the track, we broke into a collective slow clap, 90,000 strong. Every person in that stadium was clapping at the same time, faster and faster. And then it was time.
Nothing was unusual at the sound of the gun. It was about 50 meters out when a yellow and green Jamaican singlet broke away. At first I thought it was Powell; the former world record holder’s name was easier for me to remember so it must have been him. That was my logic, anyway.
Now I will never forget Usain Bolt.
As he pulled further and further away from the pack you could just sense that something was happening. The semi-finals a few hours before were nothing like this; the naked eye could see this race was faster. Could he do it? Is he fast enough?
What is he doing?
When Bolt’s arms dropped to his side it almost looked like he was high-stepping into the endzone for a touchdown. It was a dominant 10 seconds, I thought, but nothing like a world record could ever happen with this kind of finish.
Still, as the race ended my head shot back to the giant video board behind me and I saw the words:
Nobody could contain themselves. Even Greg Bowers, my sports editor at the Missourian who teaches his students to remove their inner-fan and to watch sports objectively, was impressed. No man has ever run 100-meters faster than 9.7 seconds until just now, right in front of us, and who knows when it will happen again?
It didn’t take long for the reggae to take over, and within minutes the barefooted Bolt was dancing with a Jamaican flag draped around his back right in front of our section — to a sea of flash bulbs, of course. The celebration went on for a good 10 minutes with the World’s Fastest Man taking his time and showing off his dance moves (and gold shoes) on his victory lap.
Most of the crowd stayed until the end probably assuming that the medal ceremony was coming up. We got a medal ceremony, but it was for the heptathlon (which we saw the final two events of as well). Eventually we slowly filtered out and somehow very efficiently got onto the subway and arrived home faster than it takes to get home from work.
I started recording video about five minutes before the race and continued on for the 10-minute celebration. It’ll probably have to be cut down to fit on YouTube, but it will be up soon.
Now I still have to go figure out how exactly I got so lucky.
- Chros McDougall
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