The crowds were trickling through the gates and taking their Olympic Stadium seats six hours before the eight fastest men in the world rested their feet into the starting blocks for the Men’s 100m final.
Two million people applied for tickets but only 80,000 were granted access on a cool but dry night in East London to witness four years of training and hardship condensed into less than 10 seconds.
The cast list were a varied and disparate bunch: Usain Bolt (the world and Olympic champion); Justin Gatlin (the convicted drugs cheat and fastest semi-finalist); Yohan Blake (the very, very quick Jamaican tyro); Tyson Gay (the one-time world champion), Churandy Martina (the most famous man in Netherlands Antilles), Asafa Powell (with more sub 10 second 100m than anyone in history), Ryan Bailey (the former gang member) and Richard Thompson (the man second to Bolt in Beijing).
In national breakdown, Trinidad and Tobago’s Thompson and Martina representing Holland were the only two not flying the flag for either Jamaica or the USA while Bolt, Gay and Powell were ranked the three fastest 100m runners in history before the final’s starting gun.
All the big names came through the evening’s semi-final untroubled with Gatlin setting the pace in 9.82. Then you know who stepped into the arena, exuding calmness and confidence.
Bolt, the showman, did what he does best for the cameras striking all the right poses to the delight of the crowd, before Bolt the sprinter did what he does best on the track, strolling to victory in 9.87 ahead of American Bailey.
The ease with which the Jamaican speedster secured the win and the happy-go-lucky display for television viewers was vintage Bolt and suggested that fears over the wellbeing of his hamstrings and his form in general may have been overstated. But since his world record 9.58 run in Berlin three years ago the 25-year-old has struggled to recapture those glorious heights. The theories for his dip in form were as plentiful as the rumours – the trappings of a rich and famous lifestyle had blunted his ambition, injuries sustained in a minor car accident were more serious than revealed, his appetite was sated, and on and on it went. Yet of the final field only his team mate Blake had bettered Bolt this season, and that by .01 seconds. And the world — or at least the world according to twitter — had it pegged as a two horse race between the pair.
Blake had the advantage from the blast of the starter’s gun as Gay also surged forward in lane four.
Bolt’s reaction time off the blocks in Berlin was the second slowest of the eight finalists three years ago and here in London he was sluggish again as he hurled his 6 foot 5 inch frame down the track and at 60 metres was hitting his peak speed just shy of 28 miles per hour. And once he nosed ahead, the race was won with 20 metres remaining in another Olympic record bettering his Beijing time by .6 seconds.
And in the crowd one Irish man in particular wore a broad smile. Bolt is managed by Ricky Simms, a proud son of Milford in Donegal and director of PACE Sports Management.
Hours after his native county qualified for the All-Ireland SFC semi-final, Simms had another reason to remember this day and date, Sunday, August 5, 20102.
He admitted: “London has been so different to Beijing. Usain wasn’t as well known in terms of athletics over there and didn’t get as many people coming up looking for pictures and for autographs.
“This time around he couldn’t walk down a street in London because of the crowds that would gather. But he thrives on it.
“He is a people person who loves interacting with his fans. Others prefer peace and quiet. But not Usain.”
Simms has guided the affairs of Bolt since his teenage years as an outrageously talented junior. And he wouldn’t swap the life for anything.
“In my career you want to work with the best. With Usain it is a journey, an adventure every day. Some days it is a dream, and other days it is tough.”
When we spoke before the final, I asked Simms what victory would mean to Bolt. He paused for a moment and then replied: “I think it would complete the latest chapter in his career. He wants to be a legend. He wants to cement his place in history as the greatest athlete that has ever lived.”