For Usain Bolt, there’d be no slowing down this time around. Back in Beijing, the Jamaican sprint star famously started pumping his chest before the finish of the 100-meter finals. He broke a world record anyway. In London, the field was faster; the sprint world has pursued Bolt with fervor. In fact, with seven of the eight sprinters clocking times below 10 seconds, it was the fastest 100-m race of all-time.
Still, Bolt was the fastest — again. “I looked across, and saw I was going to win,” says Bolt, who became only the second sprinter to win back-to-back titles in the 100-meters (Carl Lewis did it in 1984 and 1988). “I almost did what I did in Beijing.” But with countryman and training partner Yohan Blake bearing down on him, Bolt kept plowing to the finish. He had no room for showboating. “I was like, ‘nah,’” says Bolt. “I’ll run through the line.”
Bolt’s win in Beijing may have been more spectacular, even though he ran a faster time in London. Bolt finished in 9.63 seconds on Sunday night, an Olympic record (he ran 9.69 in Beijing, and broke his own world record at the 2009 world championships, when he ran 9.58). But for Bolt, this Olympic win was sweeter. “There was a lot of people doubting me,” says Bolt. “There was a lot of people were saying that I wasn’t going to win, I didn’t look good. There was a lot of talk. For me, it was a much greater feeling to come out there and defend my title, and show the world I’m still the number one, I’m still the best.”
Before the Jamaican trials in early July, Bolt had been battling a back injury. In June, he got into a late-night car accident, but escaped unharmed. It was his second car accident in three years. Bolt is fond of the nightlife: was he still dedicated to his sport? These questions grew when Blake beat Bolt at the Jamaican trials. The loss, however, motivated Bolt. “Yohan gave me a wake up call,” says Bolt. “He knocked on my door and said, ‘Usain, this is an Olympics year, wake up. I’m happy and I’m grateful for that moment. I refocused, I got my head together.”
(PHOTOS: Olympic Highlights in Photographs)
Before the 100-meter race, Bolt looked like his old self. He was hamming it up for the camera, wiggling two fingers around, as if they were legs in a sprint. Before Beijing, Bolt famously said he ate Chicken McNuggets before the race. This time, he said he had a chicken wrap sandwich from McDonald’s for breakfast. “It had vegetables,” Bolt says. “It was healthy.”
Bolt says that his coach, Glen Mills, told him to stop worrying about his slow starts. “I know the last 50 meters are the best part of my race,” says Bolt. “So all I had to do was execute the last 50 meters.” As expected, Bolt did not fire out of the blocks. But he eased ahead of the back in the last half of the race. “I was with the crowd, I knew I was going to do well,” says Bolt. “I just ran, pretty much.” After he crossed the line, Bolt wagged his winger: don’t you dare count me out. He did a victory lap with Blake, wearing he Jamaican flag like a cape. A few times, he struck his familiar lighting-bolt pose.
Bolt now turns to the 2oo-meters. He holds the world record in that event too: 19.19 seconds. The finals are Thursday; at the Jamaican trials, Blake beat Bolt in this event oo. “I’ve told Yohan Blake that the 200 meters will be different,” says Bolt, with Blake within earshot. “Because that’s my pet event. I’m not going to let him beat me again. I’ve said that to him already. Remember when I said that Yohan? Yeaaaah, boyyyyy.”
Though the Jamaicans confirmed they own the sprinting, the night was far from a dud for the Americans. In the 400-meters, Sonia Richards-Ross took gold, and Dee Dee Trotter won a bronze. In the 100-meters, 2004 Olympic champ Justin Gatlin, who missed the Beijing Olympics because of a drug suspension, won the bronze, edging fellow American Tyson Gay by one hundredth of a second. Gay is still the world’s second-fastest man, but has yet to win an Olympic medal. This year, Gay returned from a hip surgery. He sobbed after the race.
As Jamaica celebrates the 50th anniversary of its independence from Great Britain, Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Price, who won women’s 100-meters on Saturday, have given Jamaica a perfect birthday gift. “He’s our greatest ambassador,” says one fan from Jamaica who flew to London, after the race, while leaving the stadium. “It used to be Bob Marley. Not anymore. It’s Usain’s country.”
A win by one of Bolt’s rivals would have given track and field a new face. But Bolt, the Michael Phelps of his sport, is doing just fine in that role. At the Olympic stadium, several British fans wrapped themselves in the Jamaican flags. They root for Bolt as if he’s one of their own.”These Games needed Bolt to win,” says Gerry Clifford, a Londoner. “He’s such a global star. Tonight, he turned the Games into something more special than they already are.”