The quest for immortality can have a few mortal moments — like Usain Bolt’s start on the gun, the second slowest in the men’s 100m sprint with a 0.155-second reaction time.
Earlier, while warming up, he had wildly cheered Wayde van Niekerk’s world record in the men’s 400m — an event that Bolt has always maintained will be a challenge, and one he wants to try out some day.
That the god of sprints can age — he turns 30 next month — and slow down just a bit was apparent from what was the slowest of his three Olympic 100m sprints at Beijing, London and Rio. He won all three.
Around the 70m mark, he raced ahead and mocked Justin Gatlin of the US, edging ahead in his last four strides to finish in 9.81 seconds — though he didn’t find enough mini-seconds to look back at his rivals this time.
Those quibbles apart, the world’s most recognised athlete is on track to achieve his triple treble over 100m, 200m and 4x100m and, in his words, become immortal.
Gatlin, a two-time dope offender, was booed. Bolt’s closest contender and a perennial second place finisher, Gatlin was jeered because the American lined up against the worshipping folk’s favourite god.
It wasn’t the typical Bolt show, though everything that followed fell into the Bolt script: he nodded at cameras at the start, thumped his chest at the end, and ran straight to where the photographers were to do a shadowy imitation of the Lightening Bolt.
It’s all too familiar, but like talk show gags, no one tires of the same things since it is Bolt.
It was a nervous race for the Olympian, so he threw more impressive lines in the end. “Somebody said I can become immortal,” said Bolt. “Two more medals to go and I can sign off. Immortal.”
“It wasn’t perfect today, but I got it done and I’m pretty proud of what I’ve achieved,” he said. “Nobody else has done it or even attempted it. I expected to go faster, but I’m happy that I won. I did what I had to.”
The world record holder at 100m and 200m had the season’s best 9.86 in his semi-final. “This is what we train for. I told you guys I was going to do it. Stay tuned. Two more to go.”
Gatlin, whose first drugs ban in 2001 was reduced because he said he was treating attention deficit disorder, should be suitably cured with his entire attention focussed on Bolt over the next two runs.
He tried to be brave in stating his importance: “When it comes down to it, I have given him his closest races all his career,” Gatlin, 34, said.