LONDON – Track official Gordon Staines has two special words for Usain Bolt: "Thank you!"
Staines is the guy who fired the gun to start the men's 200-meter final Thursday night, and he's downright thrilled that Bolt and his other competitors stayed "steady" at the start of the race and that no one had to be disqualified.
"I know I breathed a big, big sigh of relief when the gun went and they went and there was no recall," he said Friday.
Staines, who is from Chesterfield in central England, is one of the thousands of people who perform those anonymous tasks that make the Olympics happen.
They are the scorers and people who start clocks in every sport. There's the guy who swims to the center of the water polo pool to place the ball on a little stand before play opens. There's an army of helpers who race to the center of the beach volleyball court to keep the sand raked and smooth.
There are people who hold out the medals on the trays, people who place the hurdles on the track. The guy who runs out and measures where the shot put hits the ground, the guy who picks it up and returns it, and the guy who loads the weights onto the barbells in weightlifting.
At the Velodrome, there's the slow-cycling person in a hat who rides ahead of competitors before the keirin races begin.
And in London, dare we forget, there was also the queen's stunt double for the opening ceremony who dropped out of a helicopter to attend the games.
But all that pales compared to jobs like the one performed by Staines, the focus of international attention, if only for an instant. Who would want the job of potentially disqualifying Bolt? He had false started in the World Championships in the 100 meters last year. No pressure there.
"I can remember giving the command on your marks and the crowd going quiet," he said. "To think you've got 80,000 people in the stadium watching, you've got millions around the world watching, it then really hit home."
The gun isn't a .45 caliber or anything. It's really a high-tech instrument wired to the blocks. The system recognizes a release in pressure. If there's a false start, Staines gets a beep in the ear and a computer printout on who was responsible. Most of the time though, he can see it.
Staines described the start.
"All the athletes responded to my command of 'on your marks' immediately. They all walked to the blocks. There was no gamesmanship. They all got down on the blocks together. They settled. The crowd went quiet. I held the nerves. I gave the set command. Every athlete risen (sic) together. They came up together. They stayed there. I fired the gun."
It all took 2.0 seconds. In the start world, that's perfect. No beeps in the ear.
"I went to bed last night (and) the adrenaline rush was still there," he said. "I'm still on a high."