Until this weekend, the 2012 Olympics have been dominated by men’s and women’s swimming and gymnastics, with a dose of basketball and beach volleyball. Gabby Douglas, Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin, among others, have led those discussions. Track and field may be the sport most commonly associated with the Olympics, however. As that portion of the Games comes into full play, all eyes have moved towards one man: Usain Bolt.
Despite dominating the 2008 Olympics, like Phelps, his doubters were out in full swing. Also like Phelps, he proved why he’s one of the greatest and made his naysayers pay homage, winning the 100m Final in Olympic record time, 9.63 seconds. He became just the first man to defend his 100m title successfully since Carl Lewis – the only other person to do it – did so in 1984 and 1988.
Four years ago in Beijing, Bolt stole the show and burst onto the global scene. Notching world record and Olympic record times in the 100m, 200m and 4 x 100 relay, he blazed the competition. Despite the magnitude, on the biggest sports stage in the universe, he appeared totally at ease, seemingly slowing up at the end of each race, leaving one to wonder just how fast he might really be. He emerged as the world’s fastest man with the entire world watching. While some athletes might appear bashful under such a focused scope, the charismatic, 6′ 5″ Jamaican was right at home. Not cocky, but comfortable. Natural. He danced around the track during his victory lap. He was having fun, enjoying himself and every moment in the most intense setting of his life.
His happy-go-lucky attitude made him a perfect, transcendent subject for the games, and he rode that momentum through the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, where he topped his Beijing performances, breaking his own world records. His 100m (9.58 seconds) and 200m (19.19 seconds) times in Berlin remain the best ever. In addition to tremendous talent and a great personality, none doubted his authenticity nor suspected him of cheating – a major point in a sport that had been tainted by doping allegations in recent years.
Usain was the man. Four years out of the global spotlight had some questioning whether he still is. Some of that speculation was his own doing, to be sure. Now 25, Bolt added to the drama and suspense at the 2011 World Championships when he won the 200m and 4 x 100, but was disqualified from the 100m for a false start. In his absence, fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake – who finished second in yesterday’s race – claimed the title.
A year later, this past June, lightning struck Bolt again, as Blake topped him in both the 100m and 200m at the Jamaican Olympic trials. After losing, he did not raced again before the Olympics. Which brings us to London. With questions looming and his legacy on the line, he delivered in full. It’s clear that he is definitely still the man, though. Four years later: same swag, same speed. Still dancing. Supreme confidence is what carried him through.
Next up are the 200 m and 4×100. Wins in both of those will make him the first athlete to repeat in all three events. All eyes on Usain.
Image: Usain Bolt