Thousands of camera flashes flickered around the Olympic Stadium as one man’s name rung out on the loudspeakers at the London Anniversary Games on Friday night. The man destined to carry athletics once more: Usain Bolt.
Nerves should have got the better of him. Instead he fist-bumped his bag holder, produced his usual array of showmanship and stormed through to take the 100-metres victory in 9.85 seconds:
Impressive given the sport’s credibility now weighs firmly on his shoulders.
The failed drug tests of Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell threatened to plunge athletics into a dark, forgotten place. They were two of just a handful of men capable of closing down Bolt, the former looking set to dethrone him—at least temporarily—at the World Championships in Moscow.
That all changed when the American and Jamaican each tested positive for a banned substance. The reputations of the second- and fourth-fastest sprinters in history are now in jeopardy.
The build-up to the London Anniversary Games was shrouded in suspicion, with Bolt having to answer numerous questions on doping. He made one thing absolutely clear, that he was clean, as reported by the BBC.
I've broken every record there ever was to break since I was growing up.
It's not a surprise that I'm breaking world records because I've been doing it since I was a junior.
I want to explain to people that ‘this is just me’. I run fast because I have a talent and was put on this Earth to inspire a lot of people.
Gay and Powell have yet to give their side of the story, but there is no denying their test results have shaken the athletics community.
Whilst the sport isn’t in the mire cycling finds itself embroiled in following the damning revelations from the Lance Armstrong era, it is teetering on a precipice. If another big name is caught, it might struggle to return.
Ben Johnson and Marion Jones have wrecked athletics in the past, and fans can only hope that the recent offenders were guilty of negligence rather than intentional cheating. All that will emerge in the months to follow, but until then athletics needs someone to pull it away from the cliff and restore faith in the sport.
In 2008 a lanky Jamaican burst onto the world stage by breaking the 100- and 200-metre world records and winning three gold medals at the Beijing Olympics. Prior to that glorious summer, athletics was struggling without a star that appealed to the worldwide audience.
Bolt is now one of the most recognisable athletes on the planet—and his charisma has contributed to the increased interest in track and field. The sport needs him to quell the doubters and prove you can triumph without banned substances.
It’s not an overnight fix—athletics has many difficult days ahead—but if Bolt can go to the World Championships in Moscow and release his usual box of tricks, people can start to enjoy athletics once more.
He will inevitably face more questions about his own remarkable performances, but if there’s one man who can convince the world that athletics has honest and clean world-class athletes, it’s Usain Bolt.