Dave Friedman has witnessed a lot of sporting events. He’s covered a lot of sporting events. But he’s never witnessed or covered anything quite like Sunday, when Usain Bolt ran the 100-meter dash in 9.81 seconds to win gold in perhaps the most anticipated race in Rio.
“It’s like no sporting event I’ve ever been to before,” Friedman, the Winthrop Eagles voice and Olympic correspondent, told Damon Amendolara, who was filling in as host of CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “The fans were excited, but not in the same loud and vocal and eager way you normally hear them. It was more in awe and in shock of his greatness and an appreciation. It was a kind of a scary, low-toned excitement level.”
Bolt, who has won gold in the 100 three times, fell behind the competition in the first half of the race but more than made up for it in the second half.
It was breathtaking to watch.
“I think people are just kind of holding their breath and they let that breath out and they just marveled at his brilliance,” Friedman said. “It wasn’t a loud, crazy cheer. It was a ‘Oh my god, this guy falls behind again, and in the course of 10 seconds seems as though he can drive by a Ferrari.’ . . . It’s remarkable. He himself says he’s not a great starter, and every time he’s not a great starter, but man, those last 40 or 50 meters, he is unbeatable. And then the style he wins with is incredible.”
“I can’t tell you whether he’s the best athlete here or whether he’s the best Olympian of all time or any of that,” Friedman continued. “But when it comes to who is the star of the stars, it’s unequivocally Bolt. He just captures everybody.”
Friedman estimated that 80 percent of fans in attendance were cheering for Bolt, even American fans wearing U.S. flags.
“They weren’t cheering for Justin Gatlin,” Friedman said. “They were cheering for Usain Bolt.”
Gatlin, who recorded a 9.89, finished runner-up to Bolt, who, just days before his 30th birthday, has stolen the show in Rio. Indeed, as popular as Michael Phelps is in some circles, it seems Bolt is popular in all circles.
“(Phelps’ appeal is) very different than Bolt, who’s seems to transcend the entire world,” Friedman said. “Everyone can kind of relate to a short sprint. With Phelps, it’s kind of a first-world sport. The Brazilians don’t have great swimmers. They have kind of one or two that were competing for medals, and they were very excited about wherever their competitors finished. But there were a lot of people that aren’t into swimming here. The Americans, very excited. The Australians, very excited. Several other countries have very, very good swimmers. But not everybody (is) into swimming, whereas everyone seems to be into track and field.”
Friedman also commented on the safety conditions in Rio. While Ryan Lochte’s mugging has gotten a lot of attention in America, it’s sort of business as usual in Rio.
“We’ve been here for 10 days, and I feel safe,” Friedman said. “You can’t put yourself in bad situations, but basically there are a half a billion people here, and they’re not overly concerned. Does crime happen here? Yes. Does it happen all over the world? Yes. Does it happen more here? Perhaps. But the amount of security – the military and the police presence out – is very, very visible.”