The fastest everyman in the world needs our help.
Teammates Yohan Blake, Nesta Carter and the magnificently spoken Michael Frater helped Usain Bolt get another world record and a third gold medal in Saturday’s 4x100-metre relay, but there’s nothing they can do about Jacques Rogge’s failing to give over his heart to a living legend.
“What else do I have to do to prove myself a legend?” Bolt asked Saturday. “Next time, ask him what Usain has to do.”
We are all his friends, don’t you get it? That’s the secret of Usain Bolt. That’s why he is the most transcendent Olympian and a living legend.
His first instinct upon crossing the finish line to help the Jamaicans set their world record of 36.84 seconds was to do the “Mobot,” the M-shaped gesture made famous by Britain’s double gold medalist, Mo Farah.
Bolt has an ear for the masses. He complained about searches at the Olympic Stadium that confiscated his skipping rope – “stupid rules,” he said – and poked fun at track-and-field red tape when he dared a marshal to disqualify him after the 4x100 metres by not immediately handing over the baton. Would have been nice to hear that announcement over the public-address system, eh? (Bolt got the baton back.)
Bolt knows that while he was the media star of the show, it was the one-time asylum seeker from Somalia, Farah, who wrote his name largest. Far from the predicted logistical disaster (mea culpa), these Games showed a new British face to the world and sparked a debate about class and the place of physical education in the plans of a government heading over an austerity cliff. A lot went on here, folks.
Later, Bolt led the crowd of 80,000 plus in a Mexican wave, and urged – no, ordered – reporters to applaud the entry of the Jamaican team into the interview room.
It is a mug’s game, this business of deciding who is the greatest Olympian of all time. Goodness, the Olympics still haven’t made peace with Jim Thorpe.
Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympian of all time, but let’s face it, he’s American and there are great swaths of the world where that’s not a ticket to popularity. Plus, he’s unforgivably bland.
There are many athletes who do good deeds and stand up for rights and tackle political challenges inside and outside the Olympic arena, either directly or by force of their athletic brilliance – Jesse Owens remains the gold standard – and kudos to them. Where Bolt falls short in some people’s eyes is gravitas.
“I’ll be chillin,’ maybe own a few businesses to have some money coming in …” he responded when somebody asked where he thought he’d be in, say, 2020. He won’t be helping promote world peace, in other words.
But name another athlete who causes smiles at the mere mention of his name? Some athletes develop a cult following; Bolt has developed a cross-cultural following. He is Jamaica. He is reggae. He transcends race, colour, gender and economic class precisely because he does not come from a land of financial wealth.
My lingering memory of these Games was a long, slow walk back to the train from Olympic Stadium on the night that Bolt won his 100-metre gold. There were a half-dozen bobbies, joined by some fans, mugging for the cameras, pointing skyward and doing The Bolt. One of the officers placed his hat on one of the fans. Another fan plucked a hat off one of the bobbies. Smiles all round.
Yes, gravitas sometimes gives an athlete deeper meaning. But sometimes it’s comforting just to be in the moment. Sometimes it’s comforting to see people smile. Especially now. Usain Bolt is a man for his time, if not all time.