Glasgow 2014: Usain Bolt gives Games some welcome razzmatazz

By Aimee LewisBBC Sport in Glasgow
Usain Bolt
Bolt adopts his trademark pose for the cameras

These Commonwealth Games would have carried on without him. They probably would have thrived without him. Usain Bolt admitted so himself.

But as soon as the Jamaican emerged on stage to face a news conference packed with reporters and camera crews from around the world, there was a quick realisation that the remaining nine days would not have been quite the same without him.

Usain Bolt pleased to be at the Commonwealth Games

There have been many who have put on a good show during the opening three days of these Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. But there has been a shortage of glamour.

The arrival of Bolt, the fastest man on the planet, changed all that.

Within an hour of touching down at the city's airport, after a long-haul flight from Jamaica via Gatwick, he was facing the Commonwealth's media.

Whether the reception he received at Glasgow International was like the one Elvis Presley got at Prestwick 54 years ago, when screaming teenagers drowned out jet engines, we will probably never know. He was whisked away from the runway before any journalist could see.

Bolt is competing in his first Commonwealth Games
Bolt is competing in his first Commonwealth Games

But Bolt doesn't need to sing rock and roll songs or wear a rhinestone jumpsuit to add glitz to an afternoon. Black tracksuit bottoms and a T-shirt in the Jamaican green and gold more than suffices.

Like any theatre of worth, the lights were dimmed in anticipation of his arrival on stage, all except for a row of spotlights shining at full wattage on the table he was due to sit at. He would be seen.

Cameras were rolling, photographers were snapping, saucer-eyed journalists of every Commonwealth twang filled the auditorium. He would be heard.

The man himself, the six-time Olympic champion, was hiding behind a big, black curtain, sneaking a peek at his inquisitors while an organiser welcomed a captivated audience.

Five children, all from a nearby running club and all kitted out in yellow and blue athletics vests, walked up a few steps to the stage. They had only learned they'd be sharing the limelight with Bolt two minutes earlier. Until then, they had been kept in the dark, their parents telling them it was top secret.

And, then, with no drum rolls, no fanfare, not even a speck of dry ice, there he was, nonchalant, just eight minutes later than scheduled.

Flashbulbs popped. Necks craned. Bolt remained unfazed. After all, the 27-year-old has been performing to packed crowds ever since he broke the 100m and 200m world records at the Beijing Olympics six years ago.

An official started a countdown from three, setting up the most famous athlete of them all, with the children by his side, to break into his famous 'archer' pose.

Bolt poses with mascot Clyde and five kids
Bolt poses with mascot Clyde and five kids

Photographers went into overdrive once more before Mike Fennell, president of the Jamaican Olympic Association, spoke.

"Thank you for being here, superstar," he said, smiling, turning to the man seated to his left. They were words that resonated with organisers, fans and journalists alike.

"He has just travelled from Jamaica," Fennell added. "So you appreciate he is very tired, but we are so happy so many of you have turned up."

Bolt - The champion becomes a legend

There was a good turnout because people wanted to see for themselves that it was true, that he really was in Glasgow. It was not only excitement that filled the air but relief.

It had seemed unlikely that the sprinter would be putting on his spikes in Scotland. The will-he-won't-he questions had begun as soon as he had won his three sprint golds at last year's World Championships.

As spring turned into summer, the wait for the Olympian to make his first competitive appearance of the year continued. He withdrew from his European commitments in June and July because a foot injury had disrupted his training.

"I hope to be back in competition soon," he said in early June. But would that be soon enough for Glasgow? Would he join British track and field treasures Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis-Hill on the list of absentees?

Media circus follows Usain Bolt

On Saturday, in a room near the north bank of the Clyde, we had our answer, although some still needed reassurance. "Will you pull out?" one journalist asked. The reply: Why fly thousands of miles and not run?

We will not see Bolt showboating at the start lines of the 100m and 200m, but he will be attempting to help Jamaica add Commonwealth sprint relay gold to their Olympic and World Championships titles.

Bolt confirmed he would also run the heats. "I need to get it going," he said. There was still rust to shake off after just six weeks of training.

It did not take long for the conversation to turn to kilts. It was the second question posed. Had he ever worn one? No. Would he like to try one? No.

Bolt crumples at yet another strange line of questioning
Bolt crumples at yet another strange line of questioning

The questions were fired from every angle, from many different nationalities. The range of topics were diverse.

Did he have an opinion on Gaza? On Scottish independence? No and no.

Did he still want to play for Manchester United? Yes. How long was he in Glasgow for? A week.

Could you beat Usain Bolt in a race?

Where would he be staying? The athletes' village, but mainly in his room. "I try not to walk around too much because I tend to have to take a lot of pictures," he explained, as if without a care.

A star-struck Australian journalist asked for a selfie, gushing: "None of us are here for work, we are here as fans." The Jamaican obliged.

Twenty minutes after the show had begun, it was over. Bolt sat back, raised both arms and gave a Churchillian salute before walking to the front of the stage to shake and slap an outstretched hand or two, as if he were a pop star satisfying an appreciative crowd.

There were gifts, too, although the chances of seeing Bolt wear a tartan hat with red hair around its trim are slim.

He eventually left as unceremoniously as he had arrived. It had been fun, just like the Friendly Games are supposed to be. It was laid-back, just like the man himself. And it cranked up the excitement for the rest of the Games, just like it was supposed to.

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