GLASGOW, August 4 – Although only racing in the programme-ending 4x100m relay, the larger-than-life presence of Usain Bolt dominated track and field at the Commonwealth Games, hit by the absence of several other big names.
The Games had got off to the worst possible start when English double world and Olympic 5,000 and 10,000m champion Mo Farah pulled out on the opening morning.
Allied with the absence of Bolt’s teammate Yohan Blake and British medal hopes Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson, there was a concern athletics might prove to be somewhat of a letdown, with doubts over Bolt’s participation raised even after he had touched down in Scotland.
Those fears were quickly dispelled, however, by a thrilling week of track and field in front of packed, raucous crowds at Hampden Park, normally home to the Scotland football team but transformed into a magnificent athletics arena.
“The fans made the Games what they were. They really came out and supported from day one,” Bolt said after anchoring the Jamaicans to gold in the relay.
“To see the fans come out and support the Games was just wonderful. The crowd was great, I thought I was in the London Olympics.
“It’s been a good championship, the crowd made it wonderful, they came out and supported and that’s always good for the athletes to come out and see a full stadium because that helps you to spur you on to really want to do good.”
East African giants Kenya topped the medals table with 23 in total, including 10 golds, 10 silvers and three bronzes.
Jamaica were second with 19 (10-3-6), followed by Australia (12; 8-1-3), England (27; 5-13-9) and Canada (17; 5-2-10).
There was no doubt that the outstanding overall performance on the track came not from Jamaica but the Kenyan women’s team, who won 13 of all 18 medals on offer between 800m and marathon, including all six golds.
But there was only one athlete able to catch the eye of the public, be they young or old, and that was Bolt, making his Commonwealth debut.
The Jamaican’s press conference after arriving in Glasgow saw him fielding questions about Gaza, kilts, Scottish independence and baying demands for “selfies” with shameless attending journalists.
Staying in the athletes’ village, Bolt then found himself at the centre of attention for all the wrong reasons when The Times newspaper quoted him as saying the Games were a “bit shit”.
Bolt came out firing, branding the story a “lie”, even though the newspaper stuck to its guns over its veracity.
That was quickly forgotten, however, when the relaxed Bolt got to the business end of the Games, playing up to the cameras to the delight of the crowds to further consolidate his position as arguably the world’s biggest sports star.
Of the other star names to compete at Hampden, Olympic champion Kirani James of Grenada won the men’s 400m but there was no such luck for 800m world record holder David Rudisha, who only managed a silver behind Botswana’s Nijel Amos.
There was a memorable double sprint title for Nigerian Blessing Okagbare, deprived however of a gold in the 4x100m relay by a Jamaican team numbering Veronica Campbell-Brown, Kerron Stewart and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, the double Olympic 100m champion, like Bolt, also making her Commonwealth debut.
A number of other London 2012 Olympic champions also added Glasgow gold to their trophy collections.
New Zealand’s Valerie Adams won her third consecutive Commonwealth shot put gold in her 56th consecutive competition, while England’s Greg Rutherford claimed the men’s long jump title and Australian Sally Pearson defended her 100m hurdles crown.
Organisers will have been thrilled by the “London legacy”, the knock-on effect from the Olympic Games held in the British capital in 2012, with warm support afforded the athletes and guaranteeing electric atmospheres.
“Personally for me it’s always relevant,” Bolt said of the Commonwealth Games in general, open to 71 nations, most former British colonies, competing in 17 sports.
“It was always on my to-do list to come here and run because I see it as a championship, like everyone else.”