Published August 09, 2012
LONDON – Usain Bolt heard all the talk.
About the pair of surprising losses at Jamaica's Olympic trials.
About how he isn't as fast as he used to be.
So after leaving the rest of the field in the Olympic 200-meter final far enough behind that he could afford to ease up over the last few strides, Bolt raised his left index finger to his lips and told everyone to shush. Bolt held that pose as he crossed the finish line in 19.32 seconds Thursday night to become the only man in history to win gold medals in the 100 and 200 at consecutive Summer Games.
"That was for all that people that doubted me, all the people that was talking all kinds of stuff that I wasn't going to do it, I was going to be beaten," Bolt said. "I was just telling them: You can stop talking now, because I am a legend."
Yes, when the stakes are the biggest, the spotlight most bright, Bolt is as good as gold.
Good as there's ever been.
Just ask him.
"I've done something that no one has done before, which is defend my double title. Back-to-back for me," Bolt said. "I would say I'm the greatest."
Tough to argue.
He added Thursday's 200 title to the 100 title he won Sunday in 9.63 seconds — the second-fastest time in that race, behind only his own record of 9.58 — duplicating the 100-200 victories he produced at the Beijing Games four years ago.
Call it a Double Double.
"The 200 spoke for itself. He's incredible. ... Doing some special things," U.S. men's track and field coach Andrew Valmon said.
In Thursday's 200, Bolt led a Jamaican sweep, with his training partner and pal Yohan Blake — who upset Bolt in the two sprint finals at Kingston — getting the silver in 19.44, and Warren Weir taking the bronze in 19.84. That was more than a half-second slower than the champion, a man Weir called "my bigger brother."
"Definitely, he's a legend. He motivated me a lot," Blake said. "It's his time. It's going to be my time soon."
In all, Bolt has won seven of the last eight major individual sprint titles in the 100 and 200 at Olympics and world championships, a four-year streak of unprecedented dominance. The only exception was a race he never got to run: Bolt was disqualified for a false start in the 100 final at last year's world championships, and Blake got the gold.
"The guy is just on another planet right now," Wallace Spearmon, the American who finished fourth in 19.90, said between sobs of disappointment.
Afterward, Bolt had plenty of energy left, dropping to the track to do five pushups — one for each of his Olympic gold medals so far. Ever the showman, he bent down and kissed the track, then did it again a few minutes later, and also grabbed a camera from someone in the photographers' well and trained it at the group clicking away.
Bolt's stated goal heading to London was to become a "living legend," and, well, he's making a pretty good case for himself, even if International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said a few hours before the 200 final that it's too early to make such determinations.
"The career of Usain Bolt has to be judged when the career stops," said Rogge, who criticized the Jamaican four years ago for showboating by slapping himself on the chest at the finish of the 100.
"Let him participate in three, four games, and he can be a legend," Rogge added. "Already he's an icon."
Bolt, who turns 26 this month, sounded as if he might not last until the Rio Olympics in 2016.
"It's going to be a hard mission," he said, noting with a chuckle that Blake and Weir are only 22. "I'm going to be 30; they're going to be 26. Both of these guys are running extremely well right now, and I think I've had my time. It's going to be hard. I can say: In life, anything's possible. But for me, that's going to be a hard reach, because there's going to be a lot more talent coming up. And these guys really stepped up already. For me, I'm just not looking that far."
In Beijing, he became the first man to win the 100, 200 and 4x100 relay in world-record times at a single Summer Games.
In London, he became the first man to win two Olympic golds in the 200, and he did it consecutively, too. He's also only the second man — joining Carl Lewis of the U.S. — with back-to-back 100 golds, and Lewis won his second when rival Ben Johnson was disqualified after failing a drug test.
At the medalists' news conference, Bolt was asked whether Jamaican sprinters are drug-free.
"Without a doubt," Bolt said, repeating that phrase twice more for emphasis. "We train hard. Especially my teammates. ... We work hard. We throw up every day. We get injuries. We have to take ice baths. ... When people doubt us, it's really hard, but we're trying our best to show the world we're running clean."
There have been some setbacks for him along the way, mainly due to minor leg and back injuries that he said were to blame for losses to Blake in the 100 and 200 at the Jamaican Olympic trials. Indeed, Bolt said Thursday he isn't 100 percent healthy now.
Most importantly, those defeats sparked some handwringing back home in Jamaica and elsewhere about how Bolt would do in London.
Turns out, those defeats also drove Bolt.
"Trials was one of the turning moments for me. When I lost, it really opened my eyes. I sat down and really looked. I went to my coach. I said, 'Coach, do I need to be worried?' And he said 'No.' He said, 'Train hard, and you should be OK.'"
That's one of the things about Bolt. He acknowledges that his work ethic isn't the greatest.
He loves the nightlife. He likes to drive fast cars (he's been at the wheel for some minor accidents in Jamaica) and eat fast food (he copped to grabbing meals of chicken nuggets in Beijing, and wrap sandwiches in London, all from a famous chain restaurant).
Unusually tall for a sprinter, the 6-foot-5 Bolt towered over the 5-11 Blake and 5-10 Weir as they posed together with Jamaican flags after their 1-2-3 finish. Bolt uses his long, long, long strides to propel himself past opponents. The sixth-fastest of eight entrants out of the blocks in the 200, he had made up the stagger on at least two other finalists before the turn.
Into the stretch, Bolt was at warp speed, gritting his teeth and pulling away. The only man who had even a remote chance of challenging him was Blake, but Bolt's extra gear carried him home.
By the end, it didn't matter that Bolt let up for his final three steps, taking a look to his left to check on Blake, who also was the silver medalist in the 100.
Bolt's time was exactly the same as three-time individual Olympic gold medalist Michael Johnson's when the American set the then-record at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics: 19.32. Back then, the thinking was that would stand as the mark for decades. As it is, that number lasted a dozen years.
Then along came Bolt.
His 19.30 in the 200 final at Beijing still stands as the Olympic record — and certainly would have been eclipsed Thursday with a full-fledged sprint through the finish — but Bolt bettered that with a 19.19 at the 2009 world championships, where he also set the current 100 record.
Now he'll try to make it 6 for 6 over the last two Olympics in the 4x100-meter relay, where Jamaica can't count on the injured Asafa Powell, the former world-record holder in the 100 and the anchor man in 2008. Still, with Bolt, Blake and Weir presumably on the squad, there's no question who will be favored. Qualifying starts Friday; the final is Saturday.
"Usain Bolt is truly an inspiration to everybody across the world," said Weir, who like Bolt and Blake is coached by Glen Mills. "And I must say, it's well-deserved."
Is Bolt the best of his era? Absolutely.
Best ever? That's subjective, of course, and fodder for talk-radio drive time. But it's awfully tough to ignore Bolt's titles and times.
There was one world record established at 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium on Thursday: David Rudisha of Kenya won the 800 meters in 1 minute, 40.91 seconds, improving his own standard by 0.10.
"I know people love Bolt," Rudisha said, when asked about being overshadowed by the sport's biggest star. "I'm happy for him, and I'm happy for me."
Rudisha whimsically entertained the prospect of a showdown over 400 meters against Bolt, who used to run that distance but abandoned it because it was too much of a grind.
"I think if I train, I can take Rudisha over 400 meters," Bolt said.
Elsewhere Thursday, Americans went 1-2 in the decathlon (Ashton Eaton and Trey Hardee) and the triple jump (Christian Taylor and Will Claye), raising the U.S. track and field total with three days to go to 24 medals, one more than the total in Beijing.
Jamaica is tied for second with nine track medals after Thursday — four from Bolt and Blake.
When they returned to collect their prizes and hear their national anthem once again, Bolt did his now-customary leap up to the top step of the podium. He kissed his medal, then bit it.
Before Thursday's victory, Bolt was wearing a backward yellow baseball cap with a black interlocking "UB," and he added a special British-flavored touch to all his prerace preening, holding a hand aloft for a simple royal wave. Then he curled his arms, one at a time, pretending he was lifting barbells, and looked right at a TV camera.
As ever, ready for his close-up.
Later in the evening, as his news conference ended — after he noted that his medals are "in a safe deposit box with some armed men around them," and talked about making a terrific winger for a soccer team — Bolt spread his arms wide and closed the session with this pronouncement:
"I am now a living legend. Bask in my glory."
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