LONDON – There wasn’t any need to shush his doubters this time, because by now Usain Bolt doesn’t have any. No reason to celebrate early, either, when there was a chance to make one final statement about just how fast a human being can run.
This one was strictly business, a flat-out sprint to the finish and into the record books. Sure, there was the obligatory “To the World” pose afterward, but the most animated Bolt seemed to get right after his last race in the London Games was when a stuffed shirt of an Olympic official made him surrender the baton he carried on the anchor lap of a stunning 4x100 relay.
Bolt would later reclaim his Olympic souvenir on appeal, which seems only fair for a man who helped make these games so spectacular. He may have shared the spotlight with Michael Phelps in Beijing, but there would be no sharing it here after becoming the first man to win the 100, 200 and 4x100 relay golds in back-to-back Olympics.
What made it so much fun was the way Bolt had so much fun. While Phelps showed no charisma at all in winning gold after gold, Bolt preened, posed and postured – seemingly wanting to let everybody in on the good time he was having.
He began by winning one of the greatest 100 meters. After winning his second gold in the 200, he declared himself a legend.
After his third Saturday night obliterated the world record in the relay, he led the crowd of 80,000 at Olympic Stadium in doing the wave before finally waving goodbye.
“It was a goodbye to London,” Bolt said. “I was just having fun with the crowd. I came here to London to become a legend and I am a legend and I wanted to thank them for supporting me.”
Let IOC president Jacques Rogge try to spoil the party, if he wants, by claiming Bolt needs at least one more Olympics to be considered a legend. Just remember, he’s the same guy who thought Bolt shouldn’t be celebrating so much in his gold-medal run in Beijing.
Rogge should be celebrating himself that Bolt could still be around for a run at more golds in Rio. The Olympics need his sparkle, though Bolt said he may not be up for a three-peat in Rio and the way he got the souvenir baton signed by his teammates made this seem like maybe a goodbye to the Olympics, too.
“It’s going to be hard to really do that,” Bolt said.
That could be, or it could be Bolt just being Bolt. He talked about retirement in one breath, and in the next joked about having discussions with his coach about moving away from the sprints into the 400.
“Have you seen the training routine for 400-meter runners?” he asked. “I’ll (throw up) a lot more, and I don’t want to do that. I like my lunch.”
The crowd at Olympic Stadium was already in a festive mood on the last night of track and field after roaring every second of the way as Britain’s Mohammed Farah won the 5,000-meter for his second gold of the games. They settled in their seats in anticipation of one last great race to end it all, and Bolt and his Jamaican teammates delivered against a U.S. quartet that had set an Olympic record in heats just the day before.
The American runners did their job and more, running a 37.04 that by itself would have tied the old world record. But Bolt, who got the baton about the same time as Bailey, exploded down the stretch, pulling away in the final 30 meters to post the first time of less than 37 seconds, a 36.84 that was exhilarating to watch.
“When he got the stick, there was nothing we could do about it,” U.S. sprinter Tyson Gay said.
“He’s a monster,” said Ryan Bailey, who could only watch as Bolt ran away from him on the final leg. “He’s a monster.”
It was one final show at a stadium built just for the Olympics, one final time to watch the sprinter with the long strides eat up chunks of track at dizzying speed. Shortly after Bolt and his teammates stood on the podium for their medals and Bolt posed playfully with Farah for photos that will surely front most British newspapers, workers began preparing the stadium for the closing ceremonies.
A few hours earlier, the man who staged the Olympics for his country said he appreciated the show Bolt put on.
“We’re not a sport of automatons,” Sebastian Coe said. “We’re people that have got flair, intelligence and sometimes express it in all sorts of ways. God spare me from a sort of robotic approach to life. It’s great that our sport captures those great moments. And yeah, he’s fantastic.”
Yes, he is, in the kind of way that comes along only once every few generations. He’s an imposing physical presence on the track, an amazing talent when his long legs get going.
Bolt has it all, and yet he can have fun, too. It’s a rare gift in a gifted athlete.
He could make it quite a party four years from now in Rio, though he might have to be dragged there by his teammates.
“Right now I’m like a bum,” he said. “I have no goals.”