Not so fast, Usain Bolt. Please don’t run away from us after this Olympics. Don’t even think about putting an end to the greatest show in track. The Olympics need you badly. The sport of track needs you desperately.
On a beautiful night in Rio, the most beautiful sight at the Olympic Stadium had to be Bolt chasing down Justin Gatlin and pulling away to an unprecedented third straight Olympic gold in the race that crowns the fastest man on earth.
Bolt preened like the superstar he is, then ran yet a race to back it up. Then he preened some more, much to the delight of those who came to watch history.
“I told you guys I wanted to set myself apart from everybody else,” Bolt said. “This is the Olympics that I have to do it at, so I came here focused and ready to go and it was brilliant.”
The golden shoes were a nice touch, but the gold medal was far more impressive. It was No. 7 over three Olympics for Bolt, and the odds are he will have two more before these Olympics come to a close.
If that is truly the end, as Bolt has said it will be, he will go into the record books as the greatest sprinter ever. But Bolt has always been more than that, ever since he announced his dominance of the sport with three gold medals in his Olympic debut eight years ago in Beijing.
The mere mention of his name Sunday night prompted roars in the stadium. The victory lap he took carrying a stuffed Olympic mascot was an added bonus, a chance for the crowd to stick around and show him some love.
Several hundred of them stayed more than an hour after the race, chanting Bolt’s name and shrieking with excitement each time it appeared he might come out to acknowledge them.
He’s the undisputed star of a sport that doesn’t produce stars anymore, a runner so popular in his native Jamaica that he is often compared to the iconic reggae master Bob Marley.
And as a runner who has never tested positive for anything, he may be the only thing holding together a sport so decimated by doping that the entire country of Russia was banned from track and field at these Olympics.
It’s hard to believe anything you see on the track anymore. That’s especially true in the 100, where Ben Johnson famously lost his gold medal in 1988 after a positive drug test, and where four of the five fastest men in the record books have also been caught doping.
Believe it, though, when you see the magnificence of a runner so smooth and fast that nothing that made him this spectacular could have come out of a bottle.
He’s so good he didn’t flinch when afterward he was asked about being the greatest ever.
“Yeah, that’s what I’m here to prove. That’s what I’m here to prove again and again. I just want to be among the greatest, so that’s why I am here.”
Gatlin would have been heading toward a second Olympic gold in the 100 against anyone else, something that would not have pleased the crowd that booed him because of his doping suspension. This was a race viewed by many as good versus evil, though in track nothing is ever as simple as it looks.
Bolt overcame his typically slow start to catch Gatlin just after the midway point of the race and pull away in what for him was a relatively slow time of 9.81 seconds. By the time he hit the finish line Bolt was pointing to his chest, where the only thing missing on his uniform was a Superman cape.
Bolt would take a long, lingering victory lap around the stadium, finally stopping in one end to unlace his gold spikes and take selfies with fans. They wanted more, and he delivered once again, turning his yellow hat backward before kneeling down and doing his “To the World” pose.
And over the loudspeakers, Marley’s “Jammin” echoed through the stadium.
Theatrical, yes, but that’s Bolt. This is a guy, after all, who was last seen taking selfies as he danced the samba with a line of women at his press conference earlier in the week.
He’s a showman extraordinaire and an athlete unparalleled. The combination is exquisite, with the only downside being the world only gets to see him this way once every four years.
The only hope is that his retirement plans are as short as his races.