LONDON — Usain Bolt may believe he is now worthy of the legend tag and be on a par with Michael Johnson — but he arguably surpasses the American because he can win and entertain at the same time.
The genial 25-year-old Jamaican achieved his benchmark of what a legend is when he completed an historic successive Olympic individual sprint double with an impressive win in the 200 metres Olymopic final in London on Thursday.
Many observers were happy to confer the ‘legend’ tag on Bolt after he successfully defended his 100m title on Sunday, but in his mind he needed gold in the longer sprint to seal the deal.
As ever he delivered on the big occasion.
He even took time to entertain, turning towards his training partner and silver medallist Yohan Blake as he crossed the line and put his finger to his lips. He seemed to be thinking: “Debate over – I am still the man in charge.”
For Bolt had come to London after Blake, who took the world 100m crown last year when Bolt was disqualified, had beaten him in both sprints at the Jamaican trials in June.
Doubts seemed to have crept in.
But Bolt consigned those defeats to footnotes in history as he showed once again the big event brings out the best in him, first with a scorching run in the Olympic 100m and then in his preferred event, the 200m.
“It’s what I came here to do. I’m now a legend, I’m also the greatest athlete to live,” said Bolt.
“I am in the same category as Michael Johnson. I’m honoured. It’s all about Michael Johnson for me. I grew up watching him break world records. He’s a great athlete.”
The American won gold in the 400m in the 1996 and 2000 Games and smashed the world record as he scorched to 200m gold in 1996 in 19.32sec – the same time Bolt ran 16 years later on Thursday night.
Unbelievably for someone who has already achieved so much, Bolt went into the Olympics with doubts surrounding whether he could repeat his electrifying sprint double from Beijing.
A modest season by his standards, fitness concerns and an early morning car crash all suggested a troubled champion.
But clearly the special atmosphere surrounding an Olympics sparks something in the 25-year-old from Trelawny.
After first hiding in the Jamaican training camp in Birmingham, the Bolt of old returned in a witty press conference on the eve of the Games.
Unlike other entertainers from the sporting world who fall short when it comes to delivering titles, Bolt has an incredible ability to be able to play to the crowd before a final, then focus on his race and blitz the field.
On Thursday, the post-match entertainment consisted of fooling around with the spectators in the Olympic Stadium and borrowing a camera to take a few snaps.
Athletics will be hugely thankful to the man who has done more to give the sport the global recognition it lacked as years of high-profile doping scandals sapped its credibility.
While former champions or world record holders either fell by the wayside – think of Tim Montgomery whose downward spiral ended with a spell in prison – Bolt has put big performances and a sense of fun first.
He has been criticised by some like Olympics chief Jacques Rogge for performing to the crowd before a race, but unlike them he has realised that athletics is an entertainment business and the crowd need to be brought into it.
“This is what I do. I’ve said it,” he said. “A lot of people come out to see what I’m going to do today, tomorrow and it’s fun for them.
“I enjoy showing them and giving them the joy I get out of doing this because they give me the energy to do it so I’m always hungry.”
Rogge, an honourable man from a different generation to the majority of spectators who buy tickets when the Bolt show comes to town, prefers to call the Jamaican an “icon”, believing you can only become a legend when you retire.
The sport’s authorities, the meet promoters and the fans will be delighted that the man himself plans to stay around for a while yet. AFP