Just a touch over a minute and 18 seconds. Thatâ€™s all the time Usain Bolt actually spent running at the London Olympics. Three 100m sprints, three 200m runs, and the anchor leg of the menâ€™s 4 x 100m relay, spread over the course of a week. Not a bad return on investment considering his resultsâ€”three more gold medals.
The 26-year-old Jamaican had set himself an immodest goal heading into his second Summer Games: to become a legend. And by winning the same three events he had taken in Beijing back in 2008â€”sprintingâ€™s triple crownâ€”he certainly made his case. Thereâ€™s only ever been one other track and field athlete to win three events at consecutive Olympics: Ray Ewry of the US, who took back-to-back golds in the standing high jump, standing long jump, and standing triple jump in 1900 and 1904. (He won two more of those three events in 1908.)
But he didnâ€™t cap it off by partying into the wee hours of the morning with leggy members of the Swedish womenâ€™s handball team. â€œIâ€™m the greatest,â€ Bolt repeatedly told reporters, never failing to follow it up with his infectious grin. And really, whoâ€™s arguing?
In a discipline that is filled with chest-thumpers and enormous egos, Bolt towers above his competition. Before the six-foot-five star came along, sprinting was considered a short manâ€™s game, with races won via quick exits from the blocks and low-slung drives over the first 30m. But where Bolt excels is down the back stretch, standing tall with his long legs gobbling up the track.
â€œIâ€™m kind of a poor starter,â€ he explains in a video he recently posted on his website. â€œAt 60m, thatâ€™s where I become a beast. Thatâ€™s when I start to dominate a race.â€ By the 90m mark the work is usually over, and the celebration well under way.
â€œThe last 10m youâ€™re not going to catch me. No matter who you are, no matter what youâ€™re doing. That last 10m takes me three-and-a-half strides.â€
Then thereâ€™s the real showâ€”Boltâ€™s carefully choreographed pre-race psych-outs and epic post-victory celebrations.
The 100m final in London provided a textbook example. As his competitors tried to settle into the blocks, Bolt exchanged quips with trackside volunteers, mugged shamelessly for a worldwide television audienceâ€”smoothing his hair, wiping mock sweat off his browâ€”and shushed the crowd by putting a finger to his lips when the announcer appealed for quiet in the stadium. Then, just before the starterâ€™s gun went off, he winked. The race was over before it had even begun.
Afterwards, clad in his green, gold and black national flag, he circled the stadium feasting on the adulation, wading into the crowd to accept hugs and high-fives; directing the photographers into position to catch his best side as he unleashed his â€œLightning Boltâ€ pose; turning somersaults on the track; even throwing down a quick boxerâ€™s shuffle Ã la Muhammad Ali. â€œI celebrate to the world and the crowd loves it because I put my flavour to it,â€ the sprinter explained. â€œI make them love and enjoy me.â€
And there is still room for improvement. Boltâ€™s winning times in Londonâ€”9.63 for the 100m and 19.32 for the 200mâ€”were well off the world records he set in those events back in 2009 of 9.58 and 19.19 respectively. His pre-Olympic training had been hampered by a back injury, and perhaps a certain lack of focus. (Busy travelling the globe to promote the interests of Puma, Gatorade, Visa, Nissan and his other sponsors, he now competes at only a half-dozen meets per year.)
In a recent interview, Bolt said his new goal is to run 100m in 9.4 seconds, and predicted he might do it as soon as this coming summer. If so, he will not just be rewriting the record books, but the scientific texts as well. A few years ago, an American study crunched 100 years of sprint results and concluded that 9.44 seconds was the fastest that a man would ever run that distance.
The post-Olympic hoopla included appearances on Saturday Night Live, DJing at parties in his honour, and a lengthy tour of the Far East, where Nissan unveiled a special Bolt edition of its GT-R sports car (gold-coloured, of course), and named him their â€œcorporate director of excitement.â€
The sprinter has quietly let it be known he intends to go for the three-peat at Rio 2016 and add a new event or two, perhaps taking a stab at a medal in the long jump, or running the 400m. In early November, he resumed training in Jamaica.
For even if Usain Bolt is, as he claims, â€œthe greatest athlete to ever live,â€ there is still more to do. After all, it doesnâ€™t really take that much time.