RIO DE JANEIRO — It ended like it was supposed to, with another gold medal, another breathtaking run, another reminder that Usain Bolt isn’t just the fastest man ever but one capable of summoning his otherworldly skill at the most appropriate time. There are great athletes, and there are great competitors, and there are the rarest breeds, of which Bolt is one, who manage to marry the two. They’re the ones that make history.
And so it went Friday night at the Rio Games, where Bolt left his final imprint on the Olympics in typical fashion. The 4×100-meter relay went off at 10:43 p.m. local time, and 37.27 seconds later, he crossed the finish line to propel Jamaica to its third consecutive gold in the race. Bolt anchored all three, and with his gold medals in the 100- and 200-meter dashes this week, he hit his beloved triple-triple: three golds in three consecutive Olympics.
Nine gold medals. It is staggering for a sprinter, but then Bolt isn’t just a sprinter. He’s a force of nature, arguably the greatest Olympian of all time, and with Asafa Powell, Yohan Blake and Nickel Ashmeade, he locked down his nine-for-nine run ahead of silver medalist Japan, which ran a 37.60. The United States team ran a 37.62 but was disqualified, leaving Canada with the bronze in 37.64 seconds.
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“I just really want this one to make it nine because I like them in threes,” Bolt said Thursday night after he won the 200, and as much as he’s fond of prime numbers, what he really wanted was back-to-back-to-back perfect Olympics. His one stumble at the Games came when he was 17, raw as an oyster, and didn’t get out of qualifying.
Once he started to take his training seriously, Bolt grew into something beyond his wildest expectations: holder of multiple world records, master of his domain and winner of medal after Olympic gold medal. He said he will not run in 2020 during the Tokyo Games, that he has achieved all he can.
“I’ve put the sport on a different level,” Bolt said. “I’ve put it on a pedestal.”
If this really was the end, the final Olympic race for Usain Bolt, he leaves behind an unparalleled three-Games run as well as an enormous vacuum. Bolt likes to say, “The only thing that matters is the gold medal,” but he knows that isn’t true. Sometimes it matters how you win it, and on Friday night, he did it in a fashion as spectacular as ever.