He held a finger to his lips and thousands went, “Shhhh.’’
He sprinted out of the starting blocks in the middle of the pack, and an entire stadium gasped.
Then suddenly, as if struck by his last name, he sprinted past the rest of the world, past history, past belief, and the Olympics roared.
In the time it took you to read those first three paragraphs, lightning crashed down upon Rio on Sunday night with a most wondrous glow, Jamaica’s Usain Bolt winning the 100-meter dash to turn these Games back into his own five-ring circus.
The fastest man in the world, again. The most fun athlete in the world, again.
An Olympics that began with Bolt dancing the samba came alive with Bolt dancing around the Olympic Stadium track after he took five impossibly long strides to catch and pass American Justin Gatlin and win his record third consecutive Olympic 100-meter title decisively in 9.81 seconds.
“It was brilliant,’’ said Bolt with his charming immodesty after a victory lap that included cheerleading, chest bumping, selfie snapping and, of course, his signature lightning bolt pose. “I didn’t go so fast, but I’m so happy I won. I told you guys I was going to do it.’’
He told us, all right. He was supposed to be too distracted after dominating the world for so long. He was supposed to be too injured, with a torn hamstring that prevented him from competing in Jamaica’s Olympic trials earlier this summer.
He will now attempt to win the 200 meters and be part of a winning 400-meter relay team, each also for a third consecutive Olympics, which the current world record-holder in both sprints claims will push him even beyond his already cemented title of best sprinter ever.
“Somebody said I can become immortal,’’ said Bolt, 29. “Two more medals to go and I can sign off. Immortal.’’
His aura will certainly live forever. After all, how many runners will win a race in 10 seconds and then publicly celebrate that moment for nearly 30 minutes?
Bolt pumped his fist into his chest as he crossed the finish line and then almost immediately began his trademark march around the edges of the track. He kneeled and made the sign of the cross. He stood and opened his arms to the screams. He blew kisses. He hugged babies. He posed with the Rio mascot Vinicius, then grabbed a Vinicius stuffed toy and carried it with him.
He put a baseball cap on backward. He took off his shoes.
He actually led the crowd in cheers of “Bolt, Bolt, Bolt.’’
Wringing out every last bit of drama, he waited until the end of his march to stand in front of the cameras and break out the lightning bolt pose that has been imitated since he literally bolted onto the Olympic scene in Beijing in 2008.
Perhaps none of his post-race antics, however, were as splendidly Bolt-ish as his move during the semifinals, when he actually turned and stared at his beaten competitors with amusement as he sprinted past them at the finish line.
“It’s a good start,” he said, good news for those who can’t wait to see what’s next.
Bolt not only created the best moment of these Games, but he slayed an Olympic villian as Gatlin’s place on the U.S. team has been questioned in the wake of his two previous drug suspensions.
Gatlin was booed with every step. Then Bolt caught him with those five breathtaking steps and ended the controversy that would have surrounded a Gatlin gold. The veteran American sprinter settled for silver at 9.89 seconds, finishing ahead of Canadian bronze medalist Andre De Grasse at 9.91.
Said Bolt: “That’s the first time I’ve gone into a stadium and they’ve started to boo.’’
Said Gatlin: “There are a lot of Usain Bolt fans … but they don’t know me, they don’t know Justin.’’
Everyone indeed loves Bolt, and why not? He doesn’t just blast, he is a blast.
Just check out what happened when he arrived in Rio last week. Instead of holding the usual news conference at the media center, he threw himself a catered party at a local theater.
“First of all, you guys have got to clap louder than that!’’ he shouted to the mostly silent audience, forgetting that news conference crowds don’t generally clap. “That’s weak!’’
Eventually, one Norwegian “journalist” satisfied Bolt by standing up and breaking into a worshipful rap song about his hero.
“I don’t really have a question,’’ the guy said. “I just want to say, ‘I really love you, man.’ ”
As the world saw again Sunday night, Bolt feeds off that love.
“I’m definitely a sprinter first, but I like to entertain, because that’s what people come out to see,’’ he said. “That’s why people love me so much.’’
He ended that initial news conference not by seriously disappearing through a side door like most stars, but by dancing off the stage with a group of gyrating Brazilian women while mugging for his fans.
“They like it when I do crazy stuff,” he said.
Crazy stuff. Historic stuff. Electric stuff. It all happened Sunday night when a Bolt not only charged a stadium but lit an Olympics.
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