Olympics 2012: BBC Hits Ratings High as 20 Million Watch Usain Bolt

Usain Bolt - P 2012
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The Jamaican's win in the 100 meter sprint on Sunday night outdrew all previous competitions, with only Danny Boyle's opening ceremony reaching more viewers.

LONDON - Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt not only set a new Olympic record with his Sunday night run that earned him another gold medal, he also gave the BBC its biggest London 2012 Summer Olympics rating yet.

The men's 100 meter sprint is traditionally one of the most-watched competitions in the Summer Games.

The BBC said Monday that a peak audience of about 20 million viewers watched Bolt beat out Jamaican colleague Yohan Blake and U.S. sprinter Justin Gatlin.

"20m peak audience for Usain Bolt last night, an Olympics high for 2012," a BBC spokesman tweeted.

That outperformed the previous ratings record for the U.K. broadcaster's coverage of the Games set on Saturday when Mo Farah’s gold medal-winning run over 10,000 meters drew a  peak viewership of 17.1 million.

Only Danny Boyle's London 2012 opening ceremony, which had peaked at 26.9 million viewers, drew bigger ratings than the 100 meter sprint.

Britain's big tennis victory Sunday afternoon, when Andy Murray defeated Roger Federer in Wimbledon where he had lost to the Swiss star just a few weeks ago, also drew solid ratings. The BBC said a peak audience of 10.7 million tuned in for Murray's gold-winning performance.

Bolt's gold-winning run was a ratings hit across Europe. Nearly 9 million German viewers watched the 100 meter race on public broadcaster ZDF - more than caught the opening ceremonies. It was a similar story in Italy, where a peak of 5.8 million viewers watched Bolt race to victory on public channel RAI, compared to 5.57 million for the opening ceremonies. The Sunday audience for France 2's coverage of the Olympics nearly doubled - from 5.4 million viewers to 10 million, for the 100 meter final. That compares to 8.7 million French viewers who watched Boyle's opening ceremonies.

Eric J. Lyman in Rome, Scott Roxborough and Rebecca Leffler contributed to this report.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai