When grand athletic achievement matches aura, you get Ali. You get Jordan. You get the most memorable athletes of their times. And even in a sport that peaks in the public’s mind only once every four years, Bolt is that transcendent star.
In that way, you feel for Blake, Gatlin and Gay, who covered 100 meters in 9.80 and left without a medal. Gay sobbed and sobbed as he spoke with reporters afterward, saying he had given it everything but it wasn’t enough from missing out on a bronze by a hundredth of a second.
Like Joe Frazier and George Foreman during Ali’s reign or Karl Malone and Patrick Ewing during Jordan’s era, Gay, Gatlin and Blake would have been remembered as the greatest champions of their time if they had just been born 10 years earlier or later.
But this is Bolt’s time, his world — and they’re just getting passed in it.
“How much do you want to be a legend?” he was asked.
“That’s my ultimate goal. That’s it for me. If I become a legend, that’s it for me. Then I got to make a new one.”
In the time it takes to read this paragraph, Bolt shot out of a starting block and took these Olympic Games by storm again. The biggest star of the Olympics is back.
Gatlin was asked if he had the lead.
“Yeah,” he said.
“Did you feel Bolt to your right?” he was asked.
“I mean, he’s 6-5 — you can’t miss him. When his legs lift, you feel it, you see it.”
Later, Gatlin said, “Bolt’s a very fast guy. He’s a true competitor; he’s a showman. . . . I’m just so glad to be a part of history.”
Bolt’s childhood friends were waiting for him afterward, smiling proudly. They knew: He was never going to lose. It was just part of the show.
“Come on, mon,” said Nugent Walker, who has known Bolt since he was 6 years old.. “There is only one king. There was always only one king.”
For previous columns by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.