LONDON — Slowing slightly before the 200-meter finish line, Usain Bolt placed his left index finger to his lips. The universal gesture for silence was meant for all the doubters, all the critics who questioned his fitness entering the Olympics, all the naysayers who thought fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake would prevent a historic gold-medal sweep of the 100 and 200.
The critics were wrong. Very wrong.
“You can stop talking now,” said Bolt to the doubters. “I’m a living legend.”
Inside an Olympic Stadium flecked with Jamaican flags, the biggest attraction at the Games entertained, raced, then entertained some more. From his royal wave during prerace introductions to his gold-winning time of 19.32 seconds to his celebratory postrace push-ups, it was a vintage Bolt show on Thursday. A world record would have made it a virtuoso performance, but a strained back forced Bolt to run easier than planned down the homestretch. It did not, however, temper his postrace theatrics, as he kissed the track, struck his trademark archer’s pose, and snapped pictures with a camera borrowed from a trackside photographer.
Every other camera was focused on the history-making sprinter, wondering what he would do next and wanting more on a night when he already had done so much. With gold medals from the 100 and 200 here added to gold medals from the 100 and 200 in Beijing, Bolt, 25, became the first man ever to capture the titles in consecutive Olympics. And with the doubters silenced, Bolt didn’t hesitate to fill the void with proclamations of his greatness, declaring he deserved inclusion in the group of all-time great athletes that includes Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali. Bolt’s back-to-back wins certainly elevate the Jamaican above the greatest US sprint champions in Jesse Owens and Carl Lewis.
“I have done something no one else has done before,” said Bolt. “I am the greatest . . . I came here with one thing on my mind. After the 100, I was confident I could win the 200. I went out there and I was focused.”
Although Bolt posted the third-slowest reaction time to the gun, he powered through the curve with his 6-foot-5-inch frame fully unfurled and entered the straight 3 meters clear of the field. But that was when his back started to bother him. As Bolt eased up, he could see Blake surging on his inside with 80 meters left. Blake defeated Bolt in the 100 and 200 at the Jamaican trials. The double defeat, Bolt said, “really opened his eyes.”
So, Bolt watched Blake out of the corner of his eye as the pair neared the finish line. But Blake did not have enough to take down the legend. With 15 meters remaining, Bolt glanced over his left shoulder at Blake and knew the gold was his. He also knew he had enough of a lead to slow down and send a message to his doubters. Blake finished second in a season-best 19.44 and fellow Jamaican Warren Weir took bronze in a personal-best 19.84. All three train under coach Glen Mills with the Racers Track Club in Kingston, Jamaica.
“I knew that all I had to do was run the curve,” said Bolt. “That was the key thing for my race. I ran the curve pretty hard. I think I ran it a little bit too hard. When I came off, I could feel my back a little bit strained. So, I decided, you know what, I’m not going to push myself too much. I’m just going to try and stay in front of Yohan. So, that’s what I did. That’s why I slowed down.”
And that is the kind of Olympic finish that adds to the legend and leaves opponents no choice but to acknowledge Bolt’s greatness, too.
“He is the god of track and field,” said Blake.
Gutted, as the British say, and tearful after his fourth-place finish in 19.90, US sprinter Wallace Spearmon congratulated the Jamaicans.
“Those guys are on another planet right now,’’ he said. “There was never any doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t finish in the top three. Right now, it’s just surreal.”
From the time Bolt made his Olympic debut with three gold medals and three world records in Beijing, his history-making speed has complemented his bold, fun-loving personality and made most major international track meets surreal affairs. He touched on his passion for cricket and soccer and qualities he looks for in a girlfriend and wanting to “fall in love” during his postrace press conference. He ended the session saying, “I’m now a living legend. Bask in my glory.” Then, he reminded everyone to check out his website and laughed. Even after nearly two hours of postrace interviews, he seemed reluctant to leave the stage.
Since the last Olympics there have been car accidents, a world-championship-costing false start, and questions about his work ethic. Before these Games, a hamstring issue related to a longstanding back problem had fans and doubters wondering if Bolt was fit enough to defend his titles. Not only did the doubters push him to repeat, they created the kind of drama that, it seems, Bolt relishes. It’s impossible to know what’s next for Bolt, except that it will be headline, and likely, history making.
Asked about his future, Bolt said, “I made my goal. Now I am just going to sit down and make another one . . . I am going to take it easy and relax for the rest of the season.”
But what about the 2016 Rio Games?
“I will be 30 then, so I am not sure,” said Bolt. “Yohan is going to be 26 and at his peak. I said to him before today, ‘Yohan, it’s not your time. It’s my time. After the Olympics, it’s your time.’ ”
But with a chance to add to his legend and lower his world records, it’s unlikely Bolt will cede the track and field spotlight any time soon. No one doubts the possibility of more thrilling races and more world records. Certainly not Bolt.Shira Springer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.