ON A busy night at Hampden, there was almost too much to take in with the naked eye, the infield was alive with activity in the discus, pole vault and high jump, while the track was buzzing with activity.
But even with so much at stake and so many home athletes in action, it all felt like the prologue to something else. As is often the case Usain Bolt was the star attraction. This time he wasn’t under the spotlight for something he may or may not have said. This was all about what made him a household name in the first place – his ability to sprint faster than virtually everyone else on the planet.
He was the person many in the crowd had turned up specifically to see. At the beginning of the session there had been a few lingering fears that he may just decide to sit out the heats of the 4x100m, the only event he was scheduled to compete in at these Games, but around 8.30pm the news filtered through from the Jamaican camp that the reigning Olympic 100m and 200m champion would anchor a quality team also featuring Kimmari Roach, Julian Forte and Nickel Ashmeade.
From the moment he touched down in Glasgow, on Saturday, Bolt had always insisted that he would run the heats of the 4x100m and not just save himself for the final. To the delight of the Hampden crowd, he delivered on that promise last night.
The anticipation was cranked up as the event drew closer and closer and as the names of the competitors for the second heat were read out there was the kind of massive roar usually reserved for the home athletes. That was one thing but the decibels went up when he eventually made his entrance into the arena.
At the top end of the home straight, he waved to the crowd, possibly relieved that the controversy of the past few days had not diminished his appeal in the eyes of the capacity crowd. Even as he jogged down his lane, keeping warm, the supporters created an unintentional Mexican wave, as each section rose to acclaim him as he approached. He loved it.
Rising to the occasion, he postured and posed, he waved and applauded and when the wolf whistles rung out as he stripped down to his running gear, he smiled broadly and raised his eyes. Given all the craziness and negativity which has dogged him since he arrived in the city, this was his domain; somewhere he was totally at ease. Here he could be the entertainer, the showman and the world-class athlete. He could set the tone and he did it brilliantly with the crowd lapping up his antics and well aware they were in the presence of an athletics legend.
As the announcer read out the names of the Jamaican team, the others gave a simple acknowledgement, resigned to the fact that no matter how talented they are in their own right, their role was always going to be as bit part players in Bolt’s personal soap opera. In contrast the 27-year-old megastar danced for the camera, playing up to his fans. But that is all window dressing, and when the others successfully got the baton safely round to him, he did what he does best, he took off like a bolt of lightning. Nigeria’s Mark Jelks chased for all he was worth but even slowing up with 20 metres to go, there was no catching the track hero, something the pair joked about after they had crossed the line and Bolt had indulged in his usual theatrics into the camera.
“It’s wonderful, just like the London Olympics,” he said. “The crowd is great. I have heard it throughout the championships and watched it on the television. I am enjoying it. The people have been good to me. I am happy to be here and I am enjoying what’s going on.”
In fact the only disappointment for the crowd was the fact that officials would not permit him to head off on a lap of the track, depriving one half of the stadium a close up. Others will get that chance in tonight’s final, with Jamaica qualifying sixth fastest.
“We told each other just to get it [the baton] round and not to stress too much about this one,” he revealed afterwards, focusing instead on pulling out all the stops when it matters – in the final.
While the Jamaican’s took no risks, sending out athletes of the calibre of Bolt, the same could not be said of the home nation in the women’s 4x400m earlier in the night. Taking the gamble to rest Eilidh Child, the silver medallist in Thursday night’s 400m hurdles, they had hoped they would be strong enough to qualify without her.
Placing their faith in Kirsten McAslan, Diane Ramsay, Gemma Nicol and Zoey Clark, the Scottish quartet finished fourth in their heat in a time of 3.33.91 and just missed out on sneaking in as one of the fastest losers, losing out to India who pipped them with a time of 3.33.67.
There was much better news for Scotland men’s 4x400m, who not only qualified for tonight’s final but broke the 24-year-old Scottish record.