Usain Bolt gains Olympic immortality
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – Athletics will hardly see the likes of him again.
And Friday night in Rio, the pride of Jamaica and the Caribbean, Usain Bolt, demonstrated just why he is one of a kind by securing a sweep of the three men’s sprint titles for a third successive Olympics when Jamaica successfully defended their 4×100 meters relay title in 37.27 seconds.
Bolt ran the anchor leg to add the Rio relay crown to the 100 meters and 200 meters titles he had already won for a third straight Games dating back to 2008 in Beijing, China.
His ninth gold medal drew him level with Paavo Nurmi, the Finn who dominated distance running in the early 20th century, and American sprinter and long jumper Carl Lewis as the most successful Olympic track and field athletes of all time. However, not even the magnificent Nurmi nor Lewis has quite matched what Bolt has achieved over the past eight years.
Japan were second in 37.60 seconds to take a surprise silver while Canada took the bronze after the third placed United States (37.62) were disqualified for a lane violation.
Asafa Powell, the former world record holder but restricted to relay duty this time, kicked things off strongly, against American lead-off Mike Rodgers. Yohan Blake, fourth in the individual 100 and the silver medalist from 2012, matched up with the USA’s Justin Gatlin and kept things even.
The third leg was key. Nickel Ashmeade had a disappointing Olympics under his own steam, but was pivotal here. He rounded the top turn effortlessly and Tyson Gay, on his inside for the Americans, was unable to prevent him opening a small gap.
And then it was done. No way was Bolt going to let it slip, not in his final race, not with destiny beckoning at the tips of those golden feet. Bolt surged down the track like he has done so many times before, powering his way into Olympic history – and further into greatness.
Later team-mate Blake said he would talk to Bolt and encourage him to compete four years hence in Japan. But for now, for the moment, for Rio, this was an occasion to share a special achievement with the greatest sprinter to ever grace the planet.
Later he took a lap with his team-mates, danced, prayed, waved, and as usual, endeared himself to the massive crowd.
Asked later what he would miss most about the Olympics, he was emphatic in simply saying: “The fans.”
And they, along with the sport, will miss him even more when he hangs up his spikes.
A bit earlier in the night, the defending American women champions did what the men couldn’t by defeating the Jamaicans in the 4 x 100m relay.
And during their victory Allyson Felix became the first woman to collect five gold medals in athletics.
The U.S. team of Tianna Bartoletta, Felix, English Gardner and Tori Bowie clocked 41.01 seconds, the second-fastest time ever after the world record they set in London four years ago, to beat Jamaica on 41.36 and Britain on 41.77.
The Americans had taken the hard route to the final, nearly missing out on a place after Felix dropped the baton when handing over to Gardner in their heat on yesterday morning.
But they appealed successfully, arguing that Felix had been impeded by a Brazilian runner, and went through at China’s expense after being allowed to race by themselves in a solo heat in the evening.
They made no mistake tonight unperturbed by pre-race jeers from the crowd.
“The journey to this point has been tumultuous. It’s special,” Bartoletta said.
Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson, running the second leg after Christania Williams before handing over to Veronica Campbell-Brown and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, narrowly missed out on a Usain Bolt-style sprint treble after her victories in the 100m and 200m.
“Wonderful experience. My first Olympics. Two golds, a silver, I can’t complain,” Thompson said.
The British team of Asha Philip, Desiree Henry, Dina Asher-Smith and Daryll Neita came third to take their country’s first medal in this event since 1984.
But at the end of he day, the night belonged to the Lightning Bolt.