Bolt’s influence will extend way beyond the track
Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe stole the show last night at the closing of the Rio Olympics when he appeared disguised as Super Mario.
As part of a teaser by Tokyo, host of the 2020 Games, there was a scene of Mr Abe travelling by car and announcing that he would not make it in time to Rio. Super Mario then appeared dressed as a plumber, running around Tokyo and jumping into a green pipe, only to lose the disguise to reveal none other than the prime minister himself with a bright red ball in his hands.
It was a scene reminiscent of the queen “parachuting” from a helicopter at the opening of the London Games in 2012, and the Japanese leader lit up Twitter and social media.
While Mr Abe stole the spotlight last night, it was the Caribbean’s Super Athlete, Usain Bolt, who stole the show.
More on this later, but first, we must compliment our own Barbadian athletes who, from the opening ceremony, right through to the very end, made us as a country proud. Their dreams of gold – or any medal, for that matter – might have been broken, but their spirits remained strong, their commitment unquestioned and their future, promising.
They gave of their best and there should be no regrets, and certainly, nothing to be ashamed of.
During the two-week spectacle, there were many moments of brilliance, excitement, pleasure and sheer awe.
The American swimmer Michael Phelps made it to the podium six times, five of them for gold medals, whereas some 125 countries failed to win a single medal.
The American gymnast Simone Biles won four gold medals and a bronze – five times as many as 15 countries – becoming the darling of the games in the process.
However, when it came to sheer presence, charisma, energy, star quality, showmanship, electricity and crowd support, no one at those Games matched Bolt.
The Jamaican went into the Rio Olympics with the weight of athletics on his shoulders. Many had been stating openly that he had to be the saviour of the sport that had been tainted by doping. According to the Guardian in the UK, if you take Bolt away, the top 26 fastest times run for the 100m all belong to athletes who have failed a drug test.
He also entered the Games with the weight of expectation, brought about by his own confidence that he would go where no other sprinter has ever gone – and many suggest might never go again – and win the “treble treble”. He did it, in a manner that suggests no other belongs in his class, while smiling and clowning and seemingly running a different race to everyone else.
Nine attempts, nine gold medals. This certainly sets him apart and places him among the greatest, or, as one British commentator said, this makes him the eighth wonder of the world. Not bad for a man many said was too tall to run the sprints.
And now, Usain St Leo Lightning Bolt has called it a day – the World Championships in London next year will be his last, he said – the sporting world will miss him.
Many will talk about his Olympic gold medals and his record performances for years, but his influence will far outlive this, both within and outside track.
Bolt made the sport fun with his rituals at the starting block, his showmanship, his respect for fellow athletes and his connection with the audience. He is a compelling figure who knows it and shows it.
After Bolt won gold in Beijing in dazzling world-record pace in 2008, President of the International Olympic Committee Jacques Rogge criticized the Jamaican’s “catch me if you can” celebration and accused Bolt of not acting in the “spirit of the Olympic ideal”.
We expect that Rogge will see things differently, with Bolt carrying Rogge and the sport on his back over the past eight years.
We will miss his majestic racing style, the manner in which he disposed of the competition with sheer superiority, his elegant strides, his utter displays of pure ultimacy. We will miss his brilliance and the stories about Trelawny yams, and we will miss the unbeatable Bolt, powerful, flexible, delightful, entertaining and quick.
He exits the stage the way the greatest do: in his own way, on his own terms and on the podium he seemed to own.