Usain Bolt left Lakeside as he arrived… a winner, with his All-Stars taking a narrow victory over Team Australia on the opening night of the inaugural Coles Nitro Athletics series at Lakeside Stadium in Melbourne on Saturday night.
The action on the track went by in a flash, just like the Jamaican who stormed down the back straight in the final event to help his side edge the well-supported locals to finish the night on top of the ladder.
Not even a second-placed finish in that relay for Australia, who earned double points with their power play, could prevent an inevitable All-Stars win that sent the 7039 fans who came to watch the King into a frenzy.
“I love it and the kids love it, it’s just fun.”
The sight of former world record holder Asafa Powell lining up for a relay leg against four women highlighted precisely what Nitro Athletics is all about and by the crowd’s reaction it did not disappoint.
“Yeah it was a lot of fun,” Bolt said after his relay win.
“I was excited to run, and next week we might change it up just for the fun of it.
“I really enjoyed it, even the elimination mile race for me was just spectacular.
“For me, this is what I expected and over time we’ll figure out ways to make it better but it’s started off good and we’ll be looking forward to the weekend even better.”
The new concept on track and field had fans of sport lining up for entry at the gates in Albert Park ready for a night of athletics that many could barely imagine what was about to unfold.
Fans and youngsters lined the front straight as athletes started their warm up in the afternoon sun while signing autographs and taking selfies before the action started on the track.
When the action started it was a festival-like atmosphere during the first event, a mixed medley relay that was dominated by Team Australia with co-captain Ryan Gregson storming to victory and a flex of the biceps past the finish line.
“There wasn’t actually much for me to do in the end, Morgan ran great, Luke ran amazing and Anneliese just pulled away so much,” Gregson said looking up at the packed front straight.
“So by the time I got the baton I just had to have a decent run and we were going to win by a long way.
“That’s what it’s all about (celebrating the win).
“We had a team meeting yesterday and that’s the thing we all wanted, first night, first event to set the team up with a win and the whole of next week.
“We wanted to win and win convincingly to show Usain Bolt and everyone else it’s not a one-man show.
“It’s amazing the crowd, I think it will build next week.”
Former college star and Olympic sprinter Jenna Prandini has competed on the biggest athletics stages around the world and she was impressed with what Nitro Athletics provided to the athletes and the crowd.
“Yeah it’s so much fun and just to be a part of a team – you never get to do that in track anymore so it’s really fun,” Prandini explained after winning the 150m.
“It’s awesome the crowd’s into it and it’s really fun because we get to be on a team and we’re cheering each other on – I love it.
“It’s incredible (to be on Bolt’s team), he’s the fastest man on the plant so any opportunity I get to run with him and do stuff with him is cool.”
In the field events Olympic long jumper Jarrion Lawson took the win with a jump of 7.94 metres just ahead of Team Australia star Fabrice Lapierre who managed 7.89 metres.
The points were shared at the top in the pole vault with Team Australia youngster Kurtis Marschall and Chinese vaulter Xue Changrui both clearing 5.40 metres.
The three-minute challenge was another popular event that got the crowd involved when Team Australian miler Luke Mathews kicked away from Kenyan Elijah Kipchirchir.
He skipped away from the Bolt All-Star as time was about to expire and produced a winning celebration when the siren went that had the Lakeside crowd screaming with joy.
“That was one of the more unique races I’ve done,” Mathews said after commending co-captain Genevieve LaCaze on her efforts in the first three-minute leg of the race.
“This crowd right now, this is almost what it was like when Usain Bolt ran at the Olympics, it was bloody incredible, incredible.”
Interaction between athletes and the fans was encouraged even before the event but seemed to happen even more often naturally as athletes roamed the infield and outskirts of the track supporting their teammates.
“I had so much fun, seriously, all the athletes are great and getting around it,” Team Australia sprinter Morgan Mitchell said.
“No not in Melbourne (see a crowd at athletics like this), every time we start we just say, ‘guys this is incredible and we’ve got to thank everyone here supporting it.”