LONDON – Pick a superlative, any superlative, and add two dozen or more synonyms. And still, the total wow factor created by Usain Bolt’s Olympic body of work goes beyond what your list of words.
I’ve attended all four of Bolt’s 100- and 200-meter gold-medal races, two in the Bird’s Nest in Beijing and two over the past week at Great Britain’s Olympic Stadium, and I’ve never seen a sports star generate the same buzz as the Jamaican sprinter has done on the track.
Michael Phelps comes a close second, but having his body submerged in water takes a bit out of the connection that ordinary individuals have with the American swimmer. We can all relate to races on dry soil a little bit more. The oldest and simplest of all sports games is trying to run faster than someone, anyone, and that is what Bolt does in the short distances.
He’s unbeatable in that role, winning the 100 by 0.20 seconds in Beijing and 0.66 seconds in the 200. In London, he completed his mission — “I am now a living legend,” Bolt told reporters repeatedly — by completing the sprint double, the first man to ever do so, taking the 100 in 9.63 seconds, an Olympic record on Sunday night, and leading a Jamaican sweep in the 200, clocking 19.32 seconds. Training partner Yohan Blake was the runnerup in both races, but really had no chance.
Bolt was chasing history, his date with destiny.
Everyone else was competing for, at best, second place.
“He is the god of track and field,” Blake reminded anyone who was listening late Thursday night. “To do the back-to-back double, he got me back from the 2012 (Jamaica Olympic Trials). He is a legend. It is his year. It will be my time soon — next year at the world championships (in Moscow).
For all the hype surrounding the 25-year-old entering the Beijing Games, Bolt, whose birthday is Aug. 21, made a lasting impression that will remain etched in the minds of millions years from now.
It all happened in Lane 7, his lucky work assignments for both London finals. And he’s still got one more goal in London: to lead Jamaica to a title defense in the 4×100 relay gold.
“This is my moment. I’ll never forget this. Lane 7 has been good to me these past couple of days,” Bolt said.
Bolt has been more than good for the sport over the past four years. His presence at the Olympics has produced millions of smiles. He has shattered the old standards in the 100 and 200 and made the impossible seem likely.
If Bolt stays motivated and committed for the next four years — he claims he’s not ready to retire yet — it’s conceivable he’ll set new records that could last for decades in both races.
But staying motivated — can he do so? — will be the $1 million question.
He regained his mojo after losing to Blake in the 100 and 200 at the Jamaica trials, the perfect “wakeup call,” he admits now. But will he become bored by his own greatness in a sport in which he is now 5-for-5 in Olympic finals?
“I made my goal. Now I am just going to sit down and make another one,” he said. I have done something that no one else has done before — I am the greatest. I am going to take it easy and relax for the rest of the season.”
If you were Bolt, what would you jot down on your to-do list? Not an easy point to ponder, is it?
Why not aim for a triple-double, a second title defense of the 100 and 200 at the 2016 Rio Summer Games?
“I will be 30 then, so I am not so sure,” he said. “Blake is going to be 26 and at his peak. (Before today’s race) I said, ‘Yohan, it’s not your time, it’s my time. After the Olympics, it’s your time.’ ”
Bolt doesn’t need to massage Blake’s ego. He’s clearly the second-best sprinter in the world today.
What separates Bolt from Blake is more than just the race times posted on the giant scoreboard for all eyes to see. Bolt believes he is invincible, and in the biggest races, in China and Britain, that’s been true.
He has the ability to measure what’s happening in split-second intervals and instantly assess what it’ll take not to lose.
“The 200 meters was harder than I expected,” Bolt said. “I could feel the pressure coming off the bend and that’s when I had to focus.”
Bolt said he kept his eyes on Blake and “made sure I stayed in front of him.”
Failing to break his world record of 19.19 seconds in Thursday’s race may have disappointed a few fans, but Bolt ran a smart, inspired race. He was a sight to behold, a well-oiled machine in motion with a joie de vivre that spreads to the masses.
“I did what I wanted . . . and I did what I had to do,” Bolt said.
The 195-cm Bolt needed just 41 strides to dash to gold in the 100, it’s been calculated the average sprinter does it in 47 strides. His long stride gives him track’s version of a knockout punch once he’s warmed up.
Decathlon gold medalist Ashton Eaton paid tribute to Bolt saying, “Usain is clearly awesome. He’s an icon for the sport.”
One reporter asked Bolt how he compares to some of the greatest legends in sports history, including Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan. Asked if he was the greatest athlete of all time, Bolt said it’s not up to him to make that claim but did say, “Yeah, I am in that category. I just know I am a legend.”
Bolt fielded questions from reporters working for news organization from everywhere — Britain, Sweden, Singapore, and the United States, for instance. And an Indian journalist asked for a reaction to the statement that in his nation “more and more people are insane to see Usain.”
“For me, I know I inspire a lot of kids,” Bolt said in response. “I tell them to work hard in whatever they do.”
“It’s an honor to be a role model.”
He’s also the world’s most eligible bachelor, telling a worldwide audience he’s single and looking for a new girlfriend.
“I used to have a type. Now I don’t have a type anymore,” Bolt said. “If I could find the right girl and fall in love, it doesn’t matter.”
His sense of humor makes him a natural showman and his comic timing was well on display in the lengthy news conference.
“I don’t know what I really want (to do) after this. I’m not going to be on the (Jamaica) bobsled team,” he said as laughter filled the room.