One week and a day before Usain’s Daegu blowout, I sat not one metre away from him, having been given five precious minutes for an interview. He told me he cared not for world records, and that he was all about winning, and that the opportunity to be a world champion comes only once every two years.
Earlier at a consumer event organised by his sponsor PUMA, the world’s fastest man had chuckled as a bunch of sprinters race against a full-size cardboard cut-out of himself mounted on a rail-track.
Largely insulated from the adoring crowd that turned up to catch a glimpse of him, the 25-year-old savoured the adulation, while his minders kept those fans at arm’s length.
As we spoke, I looked hard at him, trying to decipher the body language, wondering if all that talk about winning was a mantra he repeated to himself, to convince himself that despite arriving in Daegu as the raging favourite, he’d not been the fastest man this season. And Daegu was where those doubts about him would be quashed.
Even when he sat on stage five days later and fibbed about not knowing of Asafa Powell’s, I still wanted him to win. We forgive our heroes their little missteps. In many ways, he encapsulated what we’d like ourselves to be, someone who could do no wrong, someone who’s always on the right side of Lady Luck.
That admiration for Usain ended when I watched his shameless showboating on the starting line, telling the watching world that the guys to his left and right don’t matter, that he was zoned in for the win. In his cockiness, he gave his fellow sprinters no respect. Crucially, he wasn’t zoned in enough to avoid jumping the gun.
With everything set for him to cakewalk his way to the victory dais, Usain cracked.
On Sunday, he made a schoolboy error despite having been reminded in training of the unforgiving rule. Perhaps the fear of losing finally got to him, as someone I know speculated.
In Daegu, a Jamaican track veteran said to me, that Usain Bolt does not just run for himself, he runs for Jamaica and he runs for the world.
On Sunday evening, he let himself down, and he let Jamaica down, and most of all, he let the world down.
In a mini-preview of what to expect at the SEA Games later this year, three runners from the region took to the track in Daegu for the 100m sprint.
Indonesia’s Mohamed Fadlin, Gary Yeo from Singapore and Malaysia’s Mohd Noor Imran Abdul Hadi all made it through the preliminaries but failed to make the top 24 after the heats.
While none of them clocked fast enough times to get the pundits excited, they should provide for a neat contest when – and if – they line up for the 100m final in Palembang. Especially when you throw in the odd Thai and Vietnamese runner, and a Filipino as well.
So long they don’t jump the gun…