Rio Olympics: What Made Usain Bolt Run - Rolling Stone
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Rio Olympics: What Made Usain Bolt Run

He had one thing to accomplish in Rio – to become the greatest

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Usain Bolt won the gold medal in the 200 meter dash at Rio 2016 Olympics, cementing his legacy among the world's greatest athletes as he sets to retire.

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Usain Bolt did it again. He captured his third straight gold in the 200 a few nights after doing the same in the 100. He did it with style and he did it with class, and now he’s set to walk away from the Olympics after one last run with his team tonight, settling into whatever kind of life the fastest man on the planet settles into once his running days are over. For the rest of us, it’s like Aubrey Graham said: “If you ain’t been a part of it, at least you got to witness.” 

I promise no more Drake lyrics from here on out, but the lyric from “Forever” seems like a nice way to sum things up. Like how last night, on a damp track in Rio, the kind of atmosphere monster mosquitos thrive in, Bolt did what he set out to do. In his mind, he didn’t have to really beat anybody else, he was competing against himself and any limitations people may have put on him in his quest to be the greatest at what he does. “[T]o be among Ali and Pele,” as he put it. 

Those who may say that, yeah, he’s fast and good, but might not be able to mutter that word that Bolt wants to hear for whatever reason: Bolt simply wants no doubters left. That’s why these Olympics weren’t as much about him beating the other runners as it was winning big and putting anything left to rest. And while he still has the 4×100-meter relay tonight with his country’s team, for Bolt it was always about him as the individual runner. Watching one person excel on the highest level – by turning something we naturally start doing when we’re children into something magnificent.

No doubt this comparison has been made before, but Usain Bolt is basically the human form of Halley’s Comet. This bright and beautiful flashing light that only comes around every so often, that runs at speeds we can’t even comprehend and then is gone. If you blinked, you’re only left with the hope that next time he comes around, you’ll be able to witness it again. But if you got to see Bolt win any of his gold medals at the Olympics – especially these last two in the Rio Games 100 and 200 meter races – then you’ll probably talk about it for the rest of your life. He’s just that special. Usain Bolt is the kind of human that you can apply any cheesy sports cliche to or a few pithy sentences and it’s totally understandable. Some athletes just merit a certain kind of sentimental approach because what they’ve done is so special. 

Sports is all about nostalgia – your dad’s memories of Mantle or Ali, your memories of Jordan or Rice catching a pass from Montana – but it’s sometimes hard to appreciate things as much in the now as those things from way back when. Bolt is one of those rare cases where the gaps between Olympics give us on opportunity to anticipate and then relish every one of those runs that last mere seconds. 

We live in a world where we can get anything we want with one tap or click. In the time it would take Bolt to pan for the camera, put his feet into the blocks, win his race and then mug it up for the camera a little bit more, we could have ordered groceries or found a movie on Netflix. It would seem that Bolt’s speed is perfectly suited for these times of low-attention spans, but that hasn’t been the case at all. What the runner from Jamaica has been since 2008 is a luxury. He’s been somebody we anticipate seeing. Bolt shows up, gives us exactly what we want, and then for those of us that don’t really pay attention to racing unless it’s the Olympics (I’d wager that’s a hefty portion of the population), we have to wait another four years to see him do it again. And each time, in Beijing, London and now Rio, he has done it. Usain Bolt has done exactly what we wanted him to do and he has done exactly what he set out to do the moment he set his sights on these two individual gold medals: He’s achieved the level of greatness he was chasing on the track. 

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