Rome Crowds Go Mad for Bolt (but little else...)

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Stadio Olimpico is an awesome venueIt's very difficult to explain just how popular Mr Bolt is in Italy. The atmosphere in the Olympic Stadium on Thursday evening was nothing short of electric every time he appeared on the large screens... the level of passion shown for the great man of sprinting bordered on the obsessive.

When he accelerated away from the field to duly win the 100m in a scintillating 9.76 the noise created by the crowd of almost 60,000 was immense. After the din had died down and a certain amount of calm had been restored, Bolt appeared in the infield to do some strides and cool-down... it was almost as if he was home in Jamaica enjoying a light training session. Bizarre and yet an ingenious ploy by the organisers to squeeze every last ounce of exposure out of him!

Remove Bolt from the equation and it was a very different and slightly sad story. This meeting used to be poorly attended and really struggled to attract a decent crowd for such a large and established meeting. When he competed in 2011 the figure rose to well over 45,000 and this number swelled again in 2012. The trouble is that those in attendance do not seem to care for any of the other events and athletes, despite a wealth of World and Olympic medallists on show. Maybe it's because Italian athletics has not produced many genuine world-class athletes in the past decade, maybe they are only interested in superstar icons such as Bolt, maybe athletics does not grab the imagination like football in Italy... whatever the reasons(s), it was obvious they had arrived in their thousands for one man.

Then there was this bizarre whistling as sprinters were on their blocks under starter's orders. No idea at all why the Italians seem to think this is 'normal' behaviour when other nations accept you need to be quiet at this critical time but there you go! The contrast between Rome and the athletics enthusiasts at other Diamond League events such as Brussels, Zurich and London could not be more obvious.

And on to the athletics itself. From a Team GB perspective it was a hugely successful evening with Greg Rutherford and Robbie Grabarz securing impressive victories against very strong fields. Andrew Osagie ran a great tactical race to mix with the best in the 800m and both Goldie Sayers and Yamile Aldama put down high-quality performances in the field. Plenty of world-leading marks were set and the women's distance events shone in particular.

All in all, a very enjoyable experience but falling slightly short of some of the very best European Diamond League event, which is a real shame as there is so much potential to make it so much more...

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