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Athletics: Bolt puts his best foot forward

It seemed that the gods would get their revenge on Usain Bolt last night.

Usain Bolt leads Jamaica home at Hampden   Photograph: Nick Ponty
Usain Bolt leads Jamaica home at Hampden Photograph: Nick Ponty

It didn't rain; it poured. And by 9.09pm, when the world's fastest man finally appeared, the Hampden track was glistening beneath the floodlights. All night the puddles had been expanding and shimmering under a barrage of continuing rain.

Then, right on cue, the heavens closed. The rain stopped. And Bolt materialised in a corner of the stadium, breaking into a gentle jog down the home straight, almost incognito in black tracksuit trousers and hoodie. His height gave him away and an appreciative roar began to rumble around Hampden.

Bolt wasn't too cool to ignore it. He is never oblivious to a crowd, snapping into the zone and focusing on the race only in the seconds between 'set' and the blast of the gun. The rest of the time he soaks up and encourages the adulation, so there was a wave and a kiss as he continued the most challenging task of this bitterly cold evening: warming up.

In truth he seemed more preoccupied with warming the crowd than himself. When the Proclaimers' '500 Miles' was played in the moments before the runners were called to their blocks, he danced, he clapped his hands, he jived, he performed his signature lightning bolt gesture and he sent Hampden into paroxysms of joy. It was a tour de force of sheer charisma.

His cameo as a sprinter lasted less than 10 seconds, just enough to ensure that the Jamaican 4x100 metres relay team broke the Commonwealth record on their way to an inevitable gold medal. Then Bolt was back in showman mode. The lap of honour was a marathon of selfies and autographs, and ended with him draped in a Saltire and wearing a Jimmy hat.

Bolt and the other sprint relay squads appeared seconds after the Jamaican women, anchored by double Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, won gold in the women's event, with the promising young England team claiming bronze. Fraser-Pryce and her team-mates were in the middle of their lap of honour, but attention switched immediately to the men - or, rather, Bolt.

It only underlined the lack of democracy in athletics, a sport which Bolt rules like a benign dictator. Fraser-Pryce has done just about everything her male compatriot has short of breaking the world record, but her status lags way behind. Last night, inevitably again, the Jamaican women smashed the Commonwealth record. More importantly, the diminutive Fraser-Pryce, who has had her season disrupted by injury, looked back to something approaching her explosive best. "I'd say I'm at 80%," she said afterwards. But she was happy with that.

With Bolt, who has also had an injury-ravaged year, it was difficult to tell. In all the thousands of words spoken and written about him since he arrived in Glasgow, very few have concerned themselves with the thing upon which his fame is based: running.

Admittedly he did not spend much time running in Glasgow - at least in competition. Nine-odd seconds on Friday evening, then the same again last night, only minutes before the curtain fell on the athletics programme of the Commonwealth Games.

But Bolt is the Red Arrows of the athletics world. The speed, the brevity, the fact that his presence requires focused concentration: this is the whole point of Bolt, so it is churlish to moan about his lack of track time. Nobody complains that the Red Arrows are too fast.

Bolt's father, Wellesley, over from the tiny village of Sherwood Content in Trelawny, sat watching the action alongside Bolt's manager, Ricky Simms, in the main stand.

Bolt had taken the baton with Jamaica enjoying a marginal advantage over England, but a head-to-head with Danny Talbot on the anchor leg was never going to be a contest. Bolt waited for the baton almost sprawled across the track, a knee and a hand on the ground, then twisted himself around, as though adopting a yoga position. When he took the baton, and stretched to his full height, he blazed down the Hampden straight.

How fast he was moving it is difficult to say, and impossible after his runs in Glasgow to gauge his form and fitness. Foot surgery delayed his season, so this was his first competitive outing and it followed several weeks of double training sessions under his coach, Glen Mills, at the track named after him at the University of West Indies campus in Kingston. Bolt will next run in Diamond League meetings, including Zurich and Brussels.

On Friday, Bolt had taken issue with comments by the BBC presenter Gabby Logan, who said the Games were doing just fine without him and another high-profile Jamaican absentee, Yohan Blake. Logan was right: Hampden would have been full with or without Bolt.

But he certainly added pizazz, and nobody was complaining that he was there. Not even Bolt.

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