So on Thursday night, with the stadium full and the London weather just right, David Rudisha took full advantage of performing first.
There were no pacemakers in this Olympic 800-meter race, so Rudisha, the Kenyan star, set his own torrid pace: 49.28 seconds for 400 meters, 1 minute 14.30 seconds for 600, with the stadium announcer’s voice rising with anticipation. And in the final curve and final straightaway, Rudisha finished the job, along with his own world record, crossing the line with his wide eyes fixed firmly on the digital clock as it flashed “1:40.91.”
“Nobody has done the world record in the 800 without pace setting,” Rudisha said. “I thought it was going to be difficult. I knew I could run 1:41, but breaking the world record was a different story. But I was very determined, and I knew I was in good shape this year.”
With the crowd and the wider world bracing for something extraordinary from Bolt in an hour or so, Rudisha had beaten him to it, but Bolt did not fade quietly into the night.
After looking vulnerable in the Jamaican trials, losing both sprints to Yohan Blake, Bolt has looked much more familiar here. He defended his Olympic title by beating Blake in the 100-meter dash on Sunday, and on Thursday he did the same in the 200, emerging from the bend with a 4-meter lead and then losing some ground to Blake in the next 80 meters but never losing control of the race.
Bolt won while slowing in his final four strides in a time of 19.32 seconds, and he crossed the line with his head turned to keep a firm gaze on Blake. He won it with an index finger pressed to his lips.
“For me, that was for all the doubters,” Bolt said. “That was for all the people that were saying I wasn’t going to win, that I wasn’t going to make myself a legend; that was just for them to say: ‘You can stop talking now. I’m a living legend.’ ”
Bolt became the first sprinter to win the 100 and the 200 in consecutive Olympics, though he conceded that his back was a concern coming out of the curve on Thursday, and though his winning time in the 200 was not quite as fast as his 19.30 in Beijing.
Achieving legendary status has been Bolt’s mantra since he grabbed the second week of the 2008 Olympics by the lapels and gave it shake after shake: winning three gold medals, all in world-record time, and bringing his pre-race and post-race antics to a global audience.
Chasing history clearly proved to be a fine motivational tool for someone who already had everything. It carried him to world records and titles in the 100 and 200 at the world championships in Berlin in 2009. But to rise again in London, he said, he needed the jolt provided by his younger training partner, Blake.
Blake won the 100-meter world title last year after Bolt was disqualified because of a false start, and he beat Bolt in the 100 and 200 in the Jamaican trials.
“Blake did give me a wake-up call at the trials,” Bolt said. “He kind of just knocked on my door and said: ‘Usain, this is the Olympic year. You have to get serious. You have to remember I’m here, and I’m ready to go.’ ”
Blake, as it turned out, was ready for nothing more than silver, finishing in 19.44 seconds as Jamaica ended up with a 200 sweep. Warren Weir, a former hurdler, took the bronze medal in a personal best of 19.84.
“It is Usain’s time; he has been working hard both on and off the track,” Blake said. “It’s his moment.”
Bolt characteristically made ample use of the moment: prancing, posing, doing push-ups, borrowing a photographer’s camera to snap photographs of Blake, kissing the new, fast track. Track and field should consider kissing him back, because he has given the sport the global figure that it sorely needed in 2008 in a Darwinian entertainment landscape.
In his generally lighthearted post-race news conference, the focus was more on what he might do next. NYT