Rudisha? Bolt? Ennis? Farah? When we look back at London 2012 in 50 years’ time, who will we remember most?
At each Olympics there are athletes who rise above everyone else. They run faster, jumper higher and throw further than we can imagine. Jesse Owens in 1936, Fanny Blankers-Koen in 1948, Emil Zatopek in 1952, Bob Beamon in 1968, Alberto Juantorena in 1976, Carl Lewis in 1984, Michael Johnson in 1996, Cathy Freeman in 2000, Usain Bolt in 2008. They are the Kings and Queens of the Olympics.
So who will we remember from London 2012 in years to come? Who has stamped their mark so firmly on these Games that their name will echo down the ages?
The issue of ‘the greatest’ came up prominently during interviews in the two hours following Thursday night’s athletics session in London. Trey Hardee, the world decathlon champion and Olympic silver medallist this week, declared Ashton Eaton the best athlete in history due to the all-round ability needed for 10 events. Eaton, on the other hand, was more reserved and refused to get into what he called “a fight” with Bolt for the title of World’s Greatest Athlete.
David Rudisha, the Olympic 800m champion, was quizzed about a possible head-to-head over 400m against Bolt “to decide the greatest” and the Kenyan took the question surprisingly seriously by saying: “If we can compete in 400m one day, just for fun, it would be great.”
Of course such a race is unlikely to materialise. You may remember speculation surrounded a possible Bolt v Kenenisa Bekele race over 600 metres in the past, but it never happened.
So when Bolt was asked, he not surprisingly began by saying it would “probably never happen” but ventured that he “would take Rudisha over 400m” and would probably lose over longer distances. Although he added that if Rudisha was not able to run much quicker than 60-61 seconds for 500m, then he might have a good chance over that distance.
Bolt was even asked to compare himself to a couple of legends mentioned at the start of this article: Owens and Lewis. Without hesitation, Bolt chose Owens and added that he has “no respect for Lewis” due to the American’s controversial drug-related comments in the past.
As I write this, shortly after Thursday’s terrific evening session, these Games are not quite over. So this is a work in progress. But here are my current gold, silver and bronze standard legends from London 2012.
Gold: David Rudisha
With a spectacular exhibition of front running, the 23-year-old became the first man to break the 1:41 barrier with 1:40.91. Scorching through 200m splits of 23.4, 25.88 (49.28), 25.02 (1:14.30) and 26.61 , the Kenyan etched his name in to the history books by completing that rare feat – a world record in an Olympic final.
On a balmy night with temperatures hovering at around 23C and an 80,000-strong audience that included former world record-holder and Games mastermind Seb Coe, Rudisha led the way in a game-changing race that saw five athletes under 1:43 and Britain’s Andrew Osagie last in a big PB of 1:43.77.
Coe, Juantorena, Joaquim Cruz, Wilson Kipketer and other two-lap legends must have been mightily impressed. How many good club runners, after all, can run 49.2 for 400m, let alone keep going at a similar pace for a second lap?
Not only is Rudisha a great athlete either. He is handsome and articulate. Given this, it has always been something of a travesty that he does not have the worldwide fame he deserves.
I think that will change in future, though. The 800m is one of the classic events and his name is sure to be etched in legend.
Silver: Usain Bolt
I love Bolt. Who doesn’t? He has completed a marvellous double at these Games with a super-fast 19.32 win for 200m on Thursday night, a performance that followed his 100m victory on the Super Saturday of the Olympics when he clocked the second-fastest time ever of 9.63.
Unlike the modest Rudisha, who goes about his business in a much quieter, no-fuss fashion, Bolt throws some golden polish on to his athletics achievements courtesy of his charismatic personality and post and pre-race antics.
In Thursday’s 200m final, for example, his pre-race routine involved hushing the noisy crowd by putting his finger over his mouth while he was on the big screen, not to mention having a casual chat with a London 2012 volunteer by cheekily asking her if she was nervous. Then, at the finish, he banged out 10 press-ups and delighted the world’s press at the post-race interviews.
So why is Bolt merely runner-up in this unofficial Legend of the 2012 Games contest? To be honest, it’s a very, very close call. If he anchors the Jamaican team to victory in the 4x100m at these Games, he might nudge past Rudisha. If you catch me tomorrow when the wind’s blowing in a slightly different direction, he might nudge past Rudisha.
Yet more seriously, there were no world records (so far) from Bolt in London and I believe when we remember him in years to come we are more likely to picture him winning in Beijing than London. These Games were merely a confirmation of his brilliance as opposed to the moment he made a name for himself.
Remember, too, this article talks about who we will remember as the stars of London 2012 and not athletics generally. If we’re talking about athletics in its entirety, then Bolt is the sure-fire No.1.
The Jamaican is the greatest athlete in history. Certainly, no one could disagree with his opinion this week that he is now a “living legend”.
Bronze: Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah
From a purely British perspective, Ennis and Farah are undoubtedly the top names from these Games. Perhaps Farah might also leapfrog Bolt and Rudisha on this list if he seals a golden double by winning the 5000m on Saturday.
For now, though, as beautiful as their performances were in the heptathlon and 10,000m, neither Ennis nor Farah came close to breaking world records. They withstood massive pressure and beat quality fields, but their marks didn’t make a dent in the all-time lists.
Similarly, while Greg Rutherford’s long jump triumph was magnificent and the epic part he played in Super Saturday will never be forgotten, the harsh truth is that Mike Powell wasn’t worried about his world record falling. Rutherford is in strong company, too, alongside track and field superstars like Sally Pearson, Allyson Felix, Ashton Eaton and Tirunesh Dibaba on the legends short list.
So, reluctantly, I will pencil Ennis and Farah in joint third on this list. Not that this is a poor ‘result’. A mere handful of athletes from London 2012 will truly be remembered in half a century or a century’s time – and the British duo are definitely among them.