Amid the incredible Mo and Bolt show on the final day of the glorious Olympic athletics track programme, it was easy to overlook another quite extraordinary happening in the Olympic Stadium.
Sandwiched between Mo Farah annexing the 5,000 metres so gloriously and Usain Bolt landing his third gold of the meeting – and a world record – in the sprint relay, a 19-year-old kid called Keshorn Walcott was busy showing us why athletics remains the one Olympic sport with a true global reach.
Here was a teenager from a little Caribbean island with no heritage in the throwing events becoming the youngest ever javelin winner in the history of the Games. Cricketing geniuses like Brian Lara, yes. The odd dazzling footballer like Dwight Yorke, too. Or a one-off champion sprinter like the 1976 100 metres king Hasely Crawford. But a Trinidadian javelin thrower? Now we were in the realms of ‘cool chuckings’ fantasy.
Then Keshorn told his amazing story. About how he had been no good at sprinting or triple jump so had started off hurling bamboo sticks around on the beaches near his home and then graduated to throwing a javelin for fun with his cousins on an old school field. About how he had no proper facilities to train so ended up having to make the regular slog to Port of Spain just to learn his trade.
Yet within four years, even though he never believed he could win here, he had beaten all the powerhouses from the European javelin strongholds and sent Trinidad into such sheer delight that Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced Monday as a national holiday.
Keshorn’s fairytale seemed to sum up what a magnificent, surprising championships London 2012 was treated to in the Olympic Stadium.
As Lord Coe hailed it as the best week of track and field he had ever watched, it really did feel as if athletics, a sport which has been struggling for so long to keep its head above water, embroiled in doping scandals and losing its credibility in the eyes of an increasingly underwhelmed public, was making a stirring comeback, grabbing back its rightful place on centre stage as the premier Olympic attraction.
You could easily convince yourselves that the Olympic titles, earned amid 80,000 ecstatic cheers by Farah, Jessica Ennis and Greg Rutherford in a fantasy 44 minutes, were the biggest prizes any British athlete carried off during the fortnight simply because of the sheer bewildering spread of competition in athletics.
For, extraordinarily, no fewer than 41 different countries won medals in athletics at these Games, including 23 which struck gold. In comparison, only 19 countries won medals in the swimming pool and 18 in the rowing at Dorney. This illustrates that, along with football (which was not being played for the game’s ultimate prize here at the Olympics) athletics is still the great democracy of world sport.
It was the one event in London where you could find yourself being beaten for gold by anyone. By a Trinidadian javelin thrower. Or a men’s 4 x 400m relay squad from the Bahamas. Or a woman triple jumper from Kazakhstan. Or a male race walker from China.
Over 11,500 miles, from New Zealand’s Valerie Adams in the shot (promoted “speechless” to gold after the doping disqualification of Belarussian champion Nadzeya Ostapchuk) to Algeria’s 1500m champion Taoufik Makhloufi, you could find athletes from 70 nations stretching far over all five continents either in a final or in the top eight.
So when Coe called Farah’s double triumph “an achievement of extraordinary magnitude”, he was not kidding.
The whole world runs distance races; no less than 15 men have sped under 13 minutes for 5,000m alone this season while another 30 have cracked a brutal 27min 30sec for 10,000. That is a measure of how tough it was for Farah.
When you have stellar performances, like David Rudisha’s sublime 800m world record, teenager Kirani James’s one-lap demonstration and Bolt’s golden treble, added to such tours de force from the home stars, you have a recipe, completed by stirring in 80,000 fans a day, which athletics would kill to find again.
“It’s got to be built on,” said Coe, who should take the reins of the International Association of Athletics Federations after Lamine Diack’s retirement. “This should be our template. That when we present track and field well, it can be, in the eyes of the public, as exciting and competitive as any other sport. I think what we have done here is fulfil the potential of track and field.”
London, from British sporting folklore to Trindidadian fairytales, has led the way. Now the IAAF must surely follow the dream weaver Coe.
By Ian Chadband, Chief Sports Correspondent