x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

2008: Bolt's bonanza in Beijing

He actually slowed down, spread his arms, slapped his chest and started mugging for the cameras

Jamaica's Usain Bolt crosses the finish line to win the gold in the men's 200-meter final  at the Beijing 2008 Olympics.
Jamaica's Usain Bolt crosses the finish line to win the gold in the men's 200-meter final at the Beijing 2008 Olympics.

He actually slowed down, spread his arms, slapped his chest and started mugging for the cameras. Twenty metres from the finish. In an event where hundredths of a second usually decide the winner. After a pre-race meal of greasy chicken nuggets. And he still ran faster than any other human being. Ever. The astonishing performance of the Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt in the 100-metre final at the Beijing Olympics ranks as the high point of the games, perhaps of any Olympics, and was certainly the story of the year in sport.

For an encore, the man with a name almost too fitting to be true came back to the track four nights later and broke the world record in the 200 metres, a mark which had stood for a dozen years. Two days later, he added to his collection of gold medals as a member of the record-breaking 4x100-metre Jamaican relay team. The American swimmer Michael Phelps could lay claim to greatness, too. He broke a 36-year-old record many thought unbeatable, winning eight gold medals in Beijing and setting world records in all but one of the events. He now holds 14 gold medals, the most of any Olympian.

In football, Spain ended a 44-year drought by winning the European Championship. Manchester United were the dominant club side of the year, winning the English Premier League, the Champions League and the Club World Cup. Locally, Al Shabab won the league title and Al Ahli picked up the President's Cup. The floundering national team lost coach Bruno Metsu to Qatar, while Al Jazira spent a record Dh65 million (US$17.7) to bring the Brazilian striker Rafael Sobis to the UAE.

Meanwhile, Ahmed Khalil was named Asian Young Player of the Year, and Abu Dhabi won the right to host the Fifa Club World Cup in 2009 and 2010. In Formula One auto racing, Britain's Lewis Hamilton, the first black driver in the circuit's history, won the 2008 title in the final race in Brazil. Despite Honda's decision, citing the global economic crisis, to drop out of F1 racing, preparations were continuing in Abu Dhabi to host the last race of the 2009 season at the Yas Marina circuit.

In golf, what other name was there? In a performance for the ages, Tiger Woods sank a 13-foot putt to come from behind on the last hole of the last round of the US Open to force the tournament into an 18-hole playoff. Woods came from behind on the last hole again to force overtime, finally clinching the title on the first hole of sudden death. Oh yes, we nearly forgot to mention that he had been playing for at least 10 months with a torn ligament in his knee and had sustained a stress fracture to his left leg at a tournament earlier in the year. It could have been, as Woods said, his best championship.

In other golf news, the European Tour was officially renamed the Race to Dubai and will culminate at the Greg Norman-designed course in Dubai starting on Nov 19. Ireland's Padraig Harrington, the winner in Woods' s absence of the British Open and PGA, was expected to play. In cricket, India became the first country to beat Australia in a Test series since 2005, and Pakistan and the West Indies made history by playing a three-match one-day series in Abu Dhabi in November.

In tennis, Spain's Rafael Nadal replaced Roger Federer at the top of the men's professional tennis rankings, a few weeks after Nadal beat the Swiss in a five-set epic at Wimbledon. Both men were due to play in Abu Dhabi this week. South Africa's win in the Dubai Sevens in November was one of the highlights of the year in rugby, along with the Welsh victory in the Six Nations tournament in Europe and New Zealand's triumph in the Tri Nations.

Finally, Curlin won the $6m Dubai World Cup at Nad Al Sheba. But the Horse of the Year could not repeat the success in the $5m Breeders' Cup Classic, which was won by Raven's Pass akunawicz@thenational.ae