Hardly time to pause as track and field rules


ATHLETICS:Track and field will always be the heart and soul of the Olympic Games, as London clearly demonstrated, writes IAN O'RIORDAN

When Johnny’s on the balcony, mixing up the medicine, and I’m in the hallway, sleeping off the deadlines, after the first night, first day, inside the Olympic Stadium, when the echoes come thundering back, the morning after, in loud surround sound, then you know this is it, this is now, this is Games on.

It’s when all 80,000 seats are full, never once emptied, at 10 in the morning, more again lingering outside, for heats and qualifiers that rarely ripple the Olympic surface, but has the whole place splashing, heroically, within moments, when Jessica Ennis, lining up for the 100 metres hurdles, the first of seven events in the heptathlon, goes on the B of the Bang, runs 12.54 seconds, a British record, and every big buck spent on those billboards increases five-fold, same as those suddenly precious tickets for every session that follows.

When that Friday evening, the first gold medal is won, by the baby-faced assassin, Tirunesh Dibaba, who shoots them all dead over 25 laps, just like she did in Beijing, with a finishing surge that is royalty in motion, those warning signs are flashing, that the Ethiopians are back, that even the Kenyans know it, and that Mo Farah might have the crowd on his side, but odds as long as his stride against him, that even with his will, there is surely no way he can beat the Africans next time they run 10,000m.

It’s only when the stunningly sublime, and sweetly ridiculous, combine, his African nature and British nurture too, does Farah somehow win it on Saturday night, with as much unimaginable closing speed that anyone has ever seen, including Kenenisa Bekele, run into fourth, out of even the medals, the Ethiopian Emperor coldly dethroned, as Farah then finds himself running into Ennis, still completing her victory salute after running away with the heptathlon’s last event too, the 800m, both she and he running into Greg Rutherford, an unknown ginger-haired lad from Milton Keynes, who had just leapt 8.31m to ignite the greatest 45 minutes in the long, long history of British track and field.

When on the rainy Sunday morning, coming down, on the DLR, after the finish of the women’s marathon, where Kenya’s bad timing continued, and Tiki Gelana sent the pride of Africa back to Ethiopia, it’s suddenly the headline act already, in just a few short hours it all comes down to less than 10 seconds, and whether or not the Lightning Bolt can once again juggle his great clowning act with his tight-rope walking brilliance.

Then when the clock stops that night, at 9.63 seconds, a new Olympic record, only Usain Bolt himself ever running faster, there he is again, bending into his signature pose, even Yohan Blake wondering how he did that, still the fastest man on earth, and now unquestionably The Legend he claims to be, so that Con Houlihan was right all along, that it really is as simple as running away from a bull.

When on the Monday, meant to be a breather, the Caribbean storm is unrelenting, this one fronted by younger faces and older names, Felix Sanchez running 47.63 seconds, exactly as he did eight years before, in Athens, to win back the 400m hurdles, before a teenager from Grenada, named Kirani James, becomes the first non-American to run sub-44 over 400m flat, and with the same humility he showed when swapping his bib with last-placed Oscar Pistorious, in his semi-final, himself seems suspended in perpetual wonder.

When what happens on the Tuesday night, not long after Derval O’Rourke bids farewell to her Olympic dream, after Sally Pearson later illustrates just why, winning Australia’s only track and field gold, clearing 10 hurdles and 100m in a mere 12.35 seconds, ends up feeling less like the blue riband, more like the black armband, it’s because the man who wins the 1,500m, an Algerian named Taoufik Makhloufi, had already fooled us over 800m, pulling up injured, was now sprinting away with disbelieving ease.

Then when it seemed American athletics was on its knees, it too had fooled us, rising up like the Olympic flame itself on the Wednesday night, truly golden moments for Aries Merritt in the 110m hurdles and Allyson Felix in the 200m and Brittney Reese in the long jump, a silver lining for Dawn Harper in the 400m hurdles, while Ashton Eaton is building an unassailable lead in the decathlon.

So when the world record we so craved finally caved, on the Thursday night, when one man runs two laps in 90 seconds, the Masaai warrior better known as David Lekuta Rudisha, the good vibration inside the Olympic Stadium is felt all the way to Kenya’s Great Rift Valley, where the Irish brother who coaches him is watching on a flickering television, inside his small concrete house, so it doesn’t matter what follows, not even the 19.32 seconds it takes Bolt to complete a first ever Olympic sprint double-double, because London’s treasure house of sporting superlatives is already full.

So when two more world records go, in the sprint relays, when on Friday night the American women annihilate an East German time that had stood for 27 years, and on Saturday, the Jamaican men, anchored by Bolt, run the first ever sub-37 second lap of a running track, crushing everyone else, like a dinosaur walking on eggs, after Farah completes his distance double with slow-motion tactics over 5,000m, and after Rob Heffernan completes 50km of race walking without an Irish medal, without being an Olympic champion, but still a champion of the Olympics, this is why track and field will and always will define the Olympics.

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