Every so often we’re lucky enough to witness a truly great sports star at the height of their powers. All sports fans will have a favourite; I have particularly fond memories of watching Glenn Hoddle work his magic every week at Spurs, and later Paul Gascoigne at the same club, when the football was breathtaking before his left fell apart around him.
Perfect, then the storm
I also had some great memories of athletics to0; the sprinter Alan Wells, the Coe v Ovett middle distance battles, Haile Gebrselassie’s astonishing distance feats. But my love of athletics was soured after I watched Ben Johnson run 100 metres in 9.79 seconds in the 1988 Olympic final. It was a quite astonishing thing to witness. And then the storm broke, Johnson was found to have used doping to help him and was stripped of the title.
Since then much has been written about what is a complex affair that does not provide easily identifiable heroes and villains. But I’ve never really regained my love of athletics, because I could never watch a race and be convinced that what I was seeing was in fact genuine sporting achievement. Some of the feeling returned watching Cathy Freeman win the 400 metres at the Sydney Olympics, but without doing down her superb sporting achievement, the power of that moment also had much to do with the symbolism of the first Aboriginal athlete to represent Australia taking gold.
A passion reborn
I had lost my love of athletics, but Usain Bolt has rekindled it. It’s a joy to watch him as he destroys the opposition and achieves times which, when thought about, defy any logical explanation – 200m in 19.19 second; 100m in 9.58 seconds! Just think about what that means. No one is questioning the achievements; Bolt seems a great champion and a great showman, displaying a beguiling mix of confidence and level-headedness. Those watching the World Championships this past week have seen a great athlete give his best – and still he says there’s more to come! Look no further for the joy and inspiration at the heart of sport.