Ten years ago tonight, I had the privilege of witnessing one of the most dominant Olympic performances of our time, as Usain Bolt ran 9.69 in the men’s 100m final at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But I nearly missed the race entirely – and much has changed in China’s sports scene over the ensuing decade.
One of the benefits of covering the Olympic Games as an accredited TV journalist is having a pass that gets you access into pretty much every venue. You can’t wander onto the track at will or take a seat poolside, but you can generally find some space in the media section, which typically offers a pretty good view. There’s so much sport to cover at a Games that major TV stations – in Beijing, I was working for Canada’s CBC – typically work around the clock, especially when you are beaming the signal back to the other side of the world, so staff are split into parallel 12-hour shifts so that no detail gets missed. But when your shift is over, you’re free to catch some of the sporting action – all in the name of Olympic research, of course.
However, the men’s 100m final is one of the few events – like the Opening and Closing Ceremonies or a Michael Phelps final – that are so popular that even the media need tickets. And on the night of August 16 at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, about an hour before Usain Bolt was set to race, I hadn’t managed to get one.
I was back at home and called my friend to ask where he planned to watch the race on TV.
“I’m at the Bird’s Nest. We’ve got tickets!”