Bolt lights up Melbourne in new track concept

Jamaican star Usain Bolt, the consummate entertainer, running into Lakeside Stadium to a rousing reception at the start of the series in Melbourne.
Jamaican star Usain Bolt, the consummate entertainer, running into Lakeside Stadium to a rousing reception at the start of the series in Melbourne.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

MELBOURNE • The Nitro Series promised to make athletics a show and the sport's ultimate showman Usain Bolt capped its first meeting in Melbourne yesterday, by propelling his team of international "All-Stars" to a crowd-pleasing win in the 4x100m relay.

Taking the baton from Olympic gold medal-winning team-mate Asafa Powell, the Jamaican powered down the second leg at Lakeside Stadium before Americans Jenna Prandini and Jeneba Tarmoh completed the win in the mixed team event ahead of Japan and Australia.

Bolt's first run of the year and first in Australia brought the curtain down on the opening night of the series, which has pledged to "revolutionise" athletics.

With athletics struggling to maintain its profile outside the Olympics and rocked by major doping and corruption scandals in recent years, the organisers hope the series can reinvigorate the sport by shaking up the traditional schedule of events - and sprinkling some stardust from marquee man Bolt.

The supreme sprinter was paid a seven-figure appearance fee to commit to all three meetings in the inaugural series in Melbourne this month and given a stake in the company running the event.

Bolt fulfilled his role as athletics' great entertainer, galloping onto the field as flame cannon shot fireballs into the air and dancing to thumping pop music.

"We just want to do something different," he said. "I've never handed (a baton) over to a girl. For me that was exciting. Everybody was having fun, everyone was trying to support their team-mates."

Bolt's signature secured a prime-time broadcast for a local athletics meeting for the first time in nearly a decade while attracting key corporate backers.

Among them, Kerry Stokes, owner of the series' host broadcaster Seven West Media, had invested A$1 million (S$1.08 million) of his own funds, the Australian Financial Review newspaper reported.

The crowd was lower than the 8,500 stadium capacity but total tickets sold over the three nights of the series had comfortably outstripped those sold for the entire programme of national athletics events last year.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 05, 2017, with the headline 'Bolt lights up Melbourne in new track concept'. Print Edition | Subscribe