Usain Bolt’s magical mystery tour

More gold, more hijinks and a declaration of legend-hood from the world’s fastest man
Jamaica’s Usain Bolt celebrates his gold medal finish in the 200-metre final at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London on Thursday, August 9, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Sean Kilpatrick/CP

So there’s your defining performance of the London Olympics—and it wasn’t merely athletic.

The British can treasure the Brownlee boys, or Jessica Ennis’s heptathlon win. The rest of us take home snapshots, mental and actual, of the human parade float that is Usain Bolt. Bolt mugging. Bolt as archer. Bolt shoulder-checking on his way to the wire and finding nothing much to worry about.

It’s Bugs Bunny goes to the Olympics. He missed that turn at Albuquerque, but he won the race any way.

Tonight, the icing on the cake (or as Bolt would have it, the sauce on the chicken nugget). The 25-year-old cruised to a 19.32 gold medal in the 200-m, demonstrating once again that fears of his dissolution were greatly exaggerated. He didn’t need to smash his own world records in both events. Painting up to the edge of those times was enough. His countryman and understudy, Yohan Blake, ran a blazing 19.44 in the 200-m for silver—the best he’s done all year; a third Jamaican, Warren Weir, took bronze four tenths of a second later. But once again, Bolt was easing up as he crossed the line.

“The key for me is always to run the corner as fast I can because I know I’m a better turner than Yohan,” he shrugged. “When I came out of it, I could feel a slight strain in my back , so I decided I was going to keep my eyes on [Blake], and make sure I stayed in front of him. I did just that and that’s the reason I slowed down at the line.”

How long has it been since we’ve seen an athlete this flat-out dominant? Or so downright fun? “Guy’s on another planet,” remarked the fourth-place runner, Wallace Spearmon of the U.S., afterward, and it was true in more ways than one. As Blake stepped onto the podium, Bolt made mock claws with his fingers—a play on the “Beast” nickname he bestowed on the earnest young runner. Then, when they called his own name, Bolt leapt up with both feet and spread his arms in victory.

The show went on. While other athletes take a victory lap, he took one and a-half, beckoned by adoring fans hoping preserve him in smartphone pixels. You started to wonder whether he planned to oblige all 80,000. The tour continued through a medal ceremonies, and bled into a tour of the TV tribunes, where he once again gave every broadcaster an interview.

“Drum roll, please!” he intoned on the way into his post-race news conference, and from there, he riffed on sprinting, retirement, cricket and life. “I’ve made myself a legend, and that’s what I’ve wanted. I’m just going to enjoy myself now. To have accomplished that goal, you can’t explain the happiness that comes from that.”

It was easy, given the floor show, to forget the import of the night for Jamaica, whose repatriation of its sprinters has transformed it into a track colossus. To see three men from one country on the podium summoned 2004, when the U.S. pulled off the same feat in the 200 metre. But the U.S. is a country of 300 million people; Jamaica has less than three million yet has left the sprinting world in its dust.

Pick your explanation. The press conference broke up in laughter when a nervous reporter called the Jamaican track team “the Jamaican drug team,” while attempting to ask whether the group was doping free. Bolt, as he always does, brushed it off. “These guys train really hard,” he said, gesturing to Blake and Weir. He went on to chide Carl Lewis, saying he’d “lost all respect” for the U.S. sprinting legend for recent remarks Bolt felt cast today’s sprinters as dopers.

Whatever the explanation, the upcoming 4×100-metre relay is clearly Jamaica’s to lose.

And after that? Bolt says he’ll keep running, but not forever. He joked with reporters about playing Premier League soccer, or trying out long jump. “I need a goal. I need something to motivate me.” But he made no promise to run in Rio, acknowleding that, at 30, he might be too slow to keep up with his compatriots. And as the newser wound down, he left the sense that he’d done all he needs to do. Seizing the mic one last time, he declared: “I am now a living legend. Bask in my glow”