Recent results suggest Australian distance running is in an exciting renaissance phase. Three runners have stood out and recently produced Australian records on the world stage.
Mark Webber tore across it at 280km/hr, and a quarter of a million Sydneysiders, black and white alike, strolled over for far more significant reasons at the turn of the century.
But as a pure sporting image, could there be anything better than to see world sprint king Usain Bolt do just that – bolt across the Sydney Harbour Bridge?
As an un-backable favourite to add this month’s 100m world championship in Berlin to his Beijing Olympic gold medal in the blue riband event, the fastest man on the planet is athletics’ most obvious marketing golden goose.
Athletics, for so long the most poorly administered, attended or publicly cared for of all sports in Australia, is now presented with an opportunity to re-brand itself with a fresh posse of world class performers.
Boasting a current track or field Olympic gold medalist for the first time in almost a decade and just the second time in 21 years, Steve Hooker is a likeable lad and provided many Aussies with their 2008 Olympic highlight.
Yet a grown man in knee high socks, with ginger hair and running with a twelve foot pole, will rarely have the masses packing the stands.
Shock Beijing silver medalist Sally McLellan has further enhanced her reputation this European season and is a genuine World Champion contender later this month.
Craig Mottram’s recent failures aside, the Big Mazungo is still world class while the public’s perennial whipping girl of Australian sport, Tamsyn Lewis, this year notched up her fifteenth national title and the world indoor 800m championship.
Then there is Jana. Weird, wonderful Jana.
Injured again and unable to defend her second world title in Berlin, Jana Rawlinson and her impossibly long legs represent Australia’s next best chance of Olympic gold providing her injury setbacks end soon.
McLellan, Hooker, Rawlinson, Lewis, Mottram; all genuine stars of Aussie and world athletics. Throw in half a dozen up and comers, such as Mitchell Watt in the long jump and middle distance runner Benita Johnson and the makings of Australia’s athletics squad for next year’s Commonwealth Games and the 2012 London Olympics begins to look its best in decades.
Athletics Australia must capitalise on a once in a generation talent pool with a once in a generation superstar.
Usain Bolt streaking across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, either solo or in exhibition race mode, against the likes of John Steffensen and Cathy Freeman, would generate immeasurable media interest around the world.
Shown live on television from Bondi to Broome, it would inspire a nation of kids, for whom perhaps AFL, NRL or swimming is not their idea of sporting bliss.
Thousands would line the bridge and finish line as Bolt strode out in search of the 150m world record he broke during a similar exhibition race on the streets of Manchester in June.
Reports suggest Perth and Melbourne are in talks for an October visit, costing about $500,000 between them.
Sydney should jump in to help with a Harbour Bridge run the lure.
Half a million dollars is hardly an insignificant amount, but if Tiger Woods is worth almost $3m to play here in the Australian Masters, then $500,000 for Bolt is chicken feed.
The outlay, preferably with considerable corporate assistance, would be worth every cent.