Usain Bolt has scripted his exit to perfection. In his last individual race on the Olympic stage, the finest sprinter of them all signed off with a spectacular exclamation mark, haring to victory in his beloved 200 meters in 19.78 seconds to complete the sprint double at his third consecutive Games. Andre de Grasse, the young contender from Canada, was a distant second. The world record, his own of course, might have eluded him, but this was still a coup de grace that sat comfortably with the Bolt legend.
To put Bolt’s greatness in perspective, no male athlete before him had won the sprint double at Olympic Games or World Championships more than once. Bolt, staggeringly, has now done so six times. Should he anchor the Jamaican quartet to victory in tomorrow night’s 4×100 metres final, which the form suggests that he will as surely as night follows day, an almost fantastical triple-treat of Olympic sprint titles will be his.
Where Bolt’s invincibility over 100m has shown the faintest signs of fraying in recent years, his pre-eminence in the longer sprint is such that he remains a prohibitive favorite every time he lines up. He had explained how he wanted a draw in the outside lane, to reduce the angle of the bend and thus enable him to run at his smoothest, and his position in lane six worked to perfection. The potency of the Bolt effect was in vivid evidence once more. Just as his 100m triumph had drawn the only near-capacity crowd of this week’s troubled athletics program, the encore led to a four-fold increase in the Engenho crowd, compared to nights when there has been no Bolt on the card.
He soaked up the acclaim with all his usual ebullience, dancing and gyrating whenever his name was called. His partying streak will take some emulating once he retires, given how he even offered a rendition of Bob Marley’s One Love upon demand from a Brazilian TV presenter. Bolt, while he has run the 100m under 9.80 more times than any other man alive, continues to harbor a soft spot for the 200m. It was the event in which he first made an emphatic statement to a global audience, becoming the world junior champion at his home track in Kingston in 2002, when he was just 15. He has argued that it is the title he continues to cherish above all the rest.
It is the discipline that exerts the greatest fascination, too.
When Michael Johnson ran a scarcely credible 19.32 on that steamy night in Atlanta 20 years ago, Bolt came to see it not as mark that was out of reach for generations, but as one that he alone could lower. At his breakthrough Olympics in Beijing in 2008, he did so, recording 19.30 into a 0.9 per meter headwind. The next summer, at the World Championships in Berlin, he took it down to 19.19. Absurd as it might sound, the time still did not represent the limit of his capability. It still took a few fractions of a second for those loping legs to hit their stride, and his form around the bend was ragged to say the least.
De Grasse, the former college star from Ontario, combines a like-able persona with vast talent, and it is tempting to regard his cheeky – if futile – attempt to run Bolt down in the semi-final as symbolic of a passing of the flame.
“I don’t know what he was trying to do but he’s a young kid, he’s great,” Bolt said. One senses that he is choosing the right moment to take his leave. He turns 30 on Sunday, and he does not want to end up like Justin Gatlin, already a superannuated version of the athlete he was 12 months ago. Gatlin, 34, did not even qualify for this final, citing ankle problems as he finished only fourth in his semi-final, and Bolt was in no mood to show pity. “You can tell that he’s getting old,” he said, claiming that his rival was past the point of taking on the 100 and 200 at the same Olympics. “It’s a fact that the older you get, the rougher it becomes to double.” Bolt, however, is not merely doubling up, but showcasing his supremacy at both distances. Bolt also stated “I am trying to be one of the greatest. Be among ALI and PELE.” But, we think he’s achieved that, don’t you? This is it for now, stay tuned for further updates.