Usain Bolt went full-bore for 60 meters on Sunday before taking a peek at the competition drifting into his rearview mirror, and then at the cameras lining the inner lane of the track here at Olympic Stadium.
He mugged, a moment of incalculable confidence captured for posterity. Then he slowed, essentially jogging through the final steps of the men’s 100-meter semifinals with two celebratory fingers extended above his right shoulder.
Then came the final, and the show began.
Bolt claimed his unprecendented third gold medal in a row in the 100 in a time of 9.81 seconds, racing past his competition at Olympic Stadium — including the USA’s Justin Gatlin, who was fastest out of the blocks and led at the halfway point before Bolt made his move — and into history, adding another marquee moment to a legend unequaled in the sport’s history.
The fastest man in the world ran through the finish line and kept going, eventually slowing to grab a stuffed version of the Rio Games’ mascot and the Jamaican flag, serenaded by a chorus:
And then he struck his famous celebratory pose. Kneeling back, he moved one elbow bent inward and raised his left arm toward the sky, an archer’s stance.
“Somebody said I can become immortal,” said Bolt, who will attempt to complete another gold-medal trio in the 200 and then he 4x100 relay. “Two more medals to go and I can sign off. Immortal.”
Gatlin, 34, finished second in 9.89, completing his collection of medals in the 100, a gold in Athens in 2004 and a bronze in London in 2012. Andre De Grasse (9.91) of Canada earned bronze, the first Canadian to medal in the distance since Donovan Bailey won gold at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
It all seemed strangely familiar, reminiscent of his past glories in Beijing, in London, in cities across the world. Yet for the greatest sprinter who ever lived, there will never be another moment quite like this.
And there will never be another quite like Bolt.
“He’s a true icon,” said Jamaica’s Yohan Blake (9.93), who finished fourth.
“He’s a legend. He’s amongst the greats, like Muhammad Ali. He’s just incredible. As you can see tonight, for 12 years, doing this and getting three gold medals. It’s incredible.”
There were thoughts leading into the Rio Games that he was past his prime, that his best days were behind him. That his aversion to training, a concern seemingly raised leading into every major event, had Bolt in less than perfect physical condition, and that a balky hamstring that forced him to withdraw from the Jamaican trials would linger into competition.
There were even moments on Sunday night where he seemed fallible, as when Gatlin throttled ahead early and still was led at the halfway point.