I think we need to find a new word to describe Usain Bolt. Adjectives like 'incredible', 'fantastic', 'mindblowing' just aren't good enough. And an adjective to describe the experience watching the world's best sprinter run in front of your eyes? Nope, I can't come up with that one either. All I can say is it was the best 'I was there' moment of my life.
"The Olympics are grand. And you will have the time of your life", is what I was told before landing in London, for the biggest assignment of my career so far. Somehow, that's not how I felt for the first few days. Working in two time zones, struggling with technical problems, and trying to solve the mystery of the unidentified woman with the Indian contingent at the opening ceremony, I told myself, "This, cannot be grand". Within a day or two though, things fell into place. India's first medal came in, I finally visited the temple of tennis (Wimbledon), and one of the days in the middle of a recording, Serena Williams walked past me. Things were happening at a hectic pace, I wished there were more than 24 hours a day, and the high of covering the world's greatest sporting extravaganza was phenomenal. But it wasn't 'grand'. Senior journalists, Indian and international, who'd covered the Games in 2008 were all of the opinion that London was 'nothing' compared to Beijing. And though I couldn't make those comparisons, it took one evening to change all of that.
We made sure we kept ourselves free on the evening of 5th August, put our video cameras and tripods in the press room lockers, and walked towards the Olympic Stadium. It found it shocking, to say the least, when I overheard people saying, "What's the point of walking that far and finding a seat to watch only one event? It's going to finish in less than ten seconds anyway. And then brave all that crowd to walk back" Armed with packets of potato crisps, colas and candy bars (Yes, we could do with all the energy after spending days running around with heavy equipment), we found our way to our seats. I spent the next few minutes soaking in the sights and sounds of the place. And that is when I truly discovered the joy of being at the Olympic Games.
Packed stadium, blinding lights of a thousand camera flashes almost giving one the feel of a discotheque, and the world's best competing right in front of you. I turned my head to the left and see the gigantic screen with images of the athletes as they're being introduced. As I looked to my right, I see the Olympic flame, that was lit by Sir Steve Redgrave a few days back at that glittering opening ceremony. But it is the Chariots of Fire theme being played on loop that really gave me the goosebumps. Javelin, discus, hammer throw, high jump, long jump. It was all happening simultaneously. And no points for guessing that the loudest cheers were reserved for the British athletes, specially heptathlete Jessica Ennis, who posters plastered London city.
But once the 'dons' took centre stage, it was ONLY about them. Actually, it was just about that one man. He sprinkled something from his fingers, smoothened his hair and mock wiped sweat off his brow. The stadium screamed "U-sain U-sain!", as he pointed a finger to the sky, and followed that up with a few seconds of confident posing for the cameras. The announcer appealed for silence. Usain Bolt then put a finger on his lip, shushed the crowd, and winked. That is the charisma of the world's fastest man. And that is where he'd won the race already, in my opinion. His ability to switch from cocky to serious is astounding, and that's what makes him such a rockstar.
Make no mistake, it wasn't going to be an easy race at all. Bolt's build up to his title defense hadn't been the best. And his younger training partner, world champion Yohan Blake, whom he nicknamed the 'Beast', had beaten him twice at the Jamaican Olympic trials. Add Justin Gatlin, Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell to the field, all Olympic medallists, world champions, world record holders at some point. And you were expecting the race of a lifetime. The first 50 metres has never been Bolt's strong point. But once out of that zone, he tore down the track, racing his way to another Olympic gold in 9.63 seconds.
I tried very hard to capture what I could on my camera. Without much success. Maybe if I'm fortunate to see him run again, I'll be better prepared. Bolt's victory lap was epic, just like everything else about him. Handshakes, hugs, jigs. And not to forget the cockiness to go with all of that. The legend put his hand to his ear, turned to the crowds, and asked for more. And he got it. He also gave us more, like an impromptu somersault on the track.
My Olympic experience would've been incomplete without those 9.63 seconds, and the couple of hours spent at the Olympic Stadium before and after that. It is truly a dream come true. And I'm sticking to that cliche because from the beginning of this piece to now, I haven't been able to coin that one term that sums it up best. Suggestions are most welcome. What I can tell you though is, I have one story ready to tell my kids when I have them.