LONDON — Toting his third gold medal of the London Games, Usain Bolt gave a little wave to 80,000 or so of his best friends in the Olympic Stadium stands.
Almost immediately, the questions started: What did that mean? Was Bolt bidding adieu for good? Will he be back? Will the world get to watch him sprint on his sport’s biggest stage again in 2016?
“It was a goodbye to London. I was just having fun with the crowd,” the Jamaican explained. “I came here to London to become a legend, and I am a legend, and I wanted to thank them for supporting me.”
He accomplished exactly what he wanted to at the 2012 Olympics.
Three events – the 100 meters, 200 meters and 4x100 relay – and three victories. Plenty of pre- and postrace preening.
Just like at Beijing in 2008.
As for trying to go for a Triple Triple four years from now, Bolt insisted Rio de Janeiro isn’t necessarily in the offing.
“The possibility is there, but it’s going to be very hard. …. I’ve done all I want to do,” said Bolt, who turns 26 on Aug. 21. “I’ve got no more goals.”
He came up with three remarkable runs, improving his career mark to 6 for 6 in Olympic finals.
In more than a century of modern Olympics, no man had set world records while winning the 100, 200 and 4x100 relay –until Bolt did it in Beijing.
None had won the 200 meters twice, let alone completed a 100-200 double twice – until Bolt did so in 2008 and 2012.
Looking ahead to Rio, Bolt pointed out that he’ll turn 30 that year, while the closest thing he has to a rival, training partner Yohan Blake, will only be 26.
It was Blake who beat his buddy in the 100 and 200 finals at the Jamaican Olympic trials, raising the idea in some minds that Bolt could have trouble in London.
So much for that.
Bolt won the Olympic 100 in 9.63 seconds – the second-fastest dash in history, behind his own record of 9.58 <0x2014> and the 200 in 19.32, with Blake taking silver in both races.
“It’s been so incredible watching him,” said U.S swimmer Missy Franklin, who won four gold medals in the pool. “There was one day when he walked into the dining hall and every athlete in there just started clapping and cheering and going crazy.”
Even those other athletes are among those curious about Bolt’s future. Maybe he’ll take up the long jump. Maybe the 400 (although he says that’s too much of a grind for his tastes).
“It’s very, very difficult to predict what’s going to happen in four years. For Usain, he’s just enjoying the moment and living in today. What he’s accomplished is enough. He’s done so much for our sport, and he’s definitely a living legend. Whatever he decides in the future is more than icing on the cake, if he decides to come back,” said Sanya Richards-Ross, who won gold medals in the 400 and the 4x400 relay for the United States. “I don’t think he can do any wrong in most people’s minds.”
Count NBC, the network paying more than $1 billion for the U.S. TV rights to the 2016 Games, among those hoping Bolt will stick around.
“Usain Bolt is a firmly established star in a sport that receives unprecedented interest from the American audience during the Olympics and, as such, it would be great to see him in Rio,” NBC Olympics executive producer Jim Bell said Sunday.
Richards-Ross helped the U.S. end up with 29 medals in track and field this time, six more than in Beijing and the most at an Olympics since the 30 at Barcelona in 1992.
“I felt like something special was going to happen,” she said. “Everybody was really focused and encouraging each other throughout the journey.”
With victories in the 200 meters, 4x100 and 4x400, Allyson Felix became the first U.S. female track athlete to win three golds at a single Summer Games since Florence Griffith-Joyner in 1988.
What was expected to be a fast track was the scene for three worlds records <0x2014> Bolt’s Jamaican team in the men’s 4x100 relay, Felix’s U.S. quartet in the women’s 4x100 relay, and Kenya’s David Rudisha in the 800 meters, a run that International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge singled out as a “magic moment.”
There were others:
• The morning session of Day 1 on the track – often a quiet, sleepy, sparsely attended affair at the Olympics <0x2014> was a rolicking, must-see event with nary an empty seat, thanks in large part to Britain’s Jessica Ennis, who ran a heptathlon-record time in the 100-meter hurdles to get things going. Turned out to be merely a prelude to the thrills and deafening roars the following night, when in the span of less than an hour, the host country earned three golds: from Ennis in the heptathlon, Greg Rutherford in the long jump, and Mo Farah in the 10,000 meters (he would go on to add the 5,000 title, too).
• South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius, aka “Blade Runner,” who became the first amputee to compete on the track at an Olympics, his carbon-fiber prosthetics clack-clacking as he qualified for the 400-meter semifinals.
• Manteo Mitchell of the U.S. running the last half-lap of the opening leg in 4x400-meter relay preliminaries after hearing and feeling his left fibula snap. “Even though track is an individual sport, you’ve got three guys depending on you, the whole world watching you,” Mitchell said. “You don’t want to let anyone down.”