DAY 14: The Green Flash.
BEIJING – Oh, mon, it was a party! Bang the steel drums! Yams for one and all! Anybody in a green “Jamaica” shirt was being swarmed for interviews. We didn’t even know who they were.
“We’re proud to be Jamaicans!” a middle-aged woman declared. “We are the sprint factory of the world!”
“Is that his mother?” a reporter whispered.
“He can go faster! You won’t see nobody like him for another 50 years!” insisted a middle-aged man.
“Is that his coach?” a reporter whispered.
It was not his mother. It was not his coach. It didn’t matter. Suddenly, thanks to Usain Bolt’s second gold medal, anything having to do with a Caribbean island caused frenzy in the halls of the Olympic Stadium. I think I saw someone selling sand.
“I just blew my mind,” Bolt would say later, “and I blew the world’s mind.”
Uh, yeah. This kid who once wanted to be a cricket player has, in five days, so rewritten the book on going fast, he should get to respell his name. The way he approaches a race, smoothing his head with his hands, then wiping his forehead as if flicking sweat, then pulling his arms back like an archer and pointing two fingers to the sky – right there, the cameras should flash his moniker, punctuated by a question mark:
OK, I will.
And he does. Whew. He does. Running down the legends
Nobody has ever run faster. Think about that sentence. Nobody has ever run faster, not in the 100 meters, not in the 200, not in the history of the Olympics or for that matter in the history of the planet. Bolt did it between a Saturday and a Wednesday in Beijing. And there was no mugging or preening that cost Bolt precious time in wining the 100 over the weekend.
No, this time, the 6-foot-5 sprinting giant had his eye on the prize, chopping his arms like firing pistons and blowing air out of puffed cheeks. He ran as perfect a turn as you could conceive, and as he roared down the straightaway the only thing he seemed to be looking for was the clock. He actually leaned at the tape, which is like getting Madonna to do her own grocery shopping.
When he looked up, the clock read what he wanted it to read: a world record, breaking Michael Johnson’s famous 19.32 set in 1996 that many thought would last another decade.
Only Carl Lewis in the last 25 years had won the 100 and 200 in the same Olympics. And nobody had ever set two world records while doing it.
Don’t mind if I do.
A gold medal for celebrating
“I said, I’m going to leave everything on the track,’ ” the double-gold medalist explained afterward. And he did – at least once his victory lap was over. Along his celebratory way, he 1) fell to his back, 2) pointed to the sky, 3) wore the Jamaican flag like a stripper’s boa, 4) removed his golden shoes, 5) did the Charleston around his golden shoes, 6) did some kind of moonwalk around his golden shoes, 7) blew a two-fingered kiss to the cameras and 8) pointed to himself and declared, “I am No. 1.”
Humility is not his thing.
But when you go that fast and give a TV network those ratings, people will forgive you anything. Bolt is not egotistical, we’re told; he’s just clowning. He’s not full of himself, he’s just an island guy.
What’s the truth? Who knows? We’re interviewing shirts, remember? All we know for sure is that few men in Olympic history have gone from the wings to center stage with the sudden blazing floodlights that Bolt has. He has rewritten the record books and the geography books. The world used to look to the United States for speed; now you look south, to the Caribbean, from which sprinters already have captured gold or silver in the men’s 100, women’s 100, men’s 200, women’s 400 and women’s 400 hurdles.
I thought we went to the islands to relax.
No more. Watch for speeding bullets on the beach. Expect the pina colada delivered before you order it.
“The prime minister is on the phone!” someone yelled in the tunnel, waving a cell.
Why not? Mr. Bolt, who turns 22 today, has the world at his feet. And those are fast feet. By the way, that 200 world record? He ran it into a headwind.
Most likely a Jamaican Breeze.