RIO DE JANEIRO — To end the strangest day of the strangest Olympics, there was Usain Bolt, sharing his joy. The greatest sprinter ever took one more victory lap Thursday night. The stadium chanted his full name, so loud that you couldn’t think about anything else. For that, Bolt should be awarded two medals.
In this moment, Ryan Lochte and his mischievous crew didn’t exist. There was no room for conversation about urine, lies and videotape. There were no police angry over a group of drunken swimmers perpetuating a stereotype about violent and corrupt Brazilians. Draped in the Jamaican flag, Bolt strolled until they played his song. And when Bob Marley’s “One Love” started booming through the Olympic Stadium speakers, he stopped and danced. The lyrics seemed like a well-timed message.
“One love!” Marley sang. “One heart! Let’s get together and feel all right.”
Of course, we can’t feel all right, not all the time, not here. Real life keeps getting in the way of beautiful competition. The Olympians thrill; the Olympics befuddle. That has been the pattern. The dichotomy between the bizarre and the brilliant has turned the past two weeks into the best worst Olympics you will ever witness.
The Rio Games haven’t been what you expected. It has been better. And it has been more disastrous. It has been full of athletic highs, such as Bolt adding a third straight 200-meter gold to go with a third straight 100-meter gold. And it has been full of lows everywhere else, with the Lochte crew’s “The Hangover” rip-off being the most embarrassing incident, at least from an American perspective.
If these Olympics weren’t so adamant about being bizarre, the focus would never shift from the extraordinary athletic brilliance seen the past two weeks. But there is always something.
The diving pool turned green. The boxing judges were incompetent or corrupt or both. The media bus got attacked. The overhead television camera fell 65 feet. An International Olympic Committee member was arrested for scalping tickets, and he was naked on video as he answered the police’s knock on his hotel door. A bullet pierced the media tent at the equestrian venue. A dead body was found near Maracanã Stadium the night of the Opening Ceremonies. A severed leg was found floating near the sailing course. Oh, and legitimate robberies of Olympic participants occurred, ones that can’t be refuted by footage of drunken idiots vandalizing a gas station restroom.
Give or take an appendage, we’ve about covered it all.
But on the other side, these Olympics have included an unprecedented convergence of greatness. The Games hadn’t seen this many all-time Olympic greats intersect with this many burgeoning superstars, and nearly all of them have delivered historic performances.
There’s Michael Phelps, the greatest male swimmer. And there’s Katie Ledecky, who might be considered the greatest female swimmer one day. There’s Simone Biles, revolutionizing women’s gymnastics. And there’s Kohei Uchimura, the all-time alpha male gymnast.
There’s Allyson Felix, surpassing Jackie Joyner-Kersee as the most successful U.S. track athlete in Olympic history. And there’s Kerri Walsh Jennings, at 38, adding a bronze to her three gold medals, inspiring Brazil’s Talita Antunes da Rocha to say, “When you talk about beach volleyball, you talk about Kerri Walsh.”
There’s the U.S. women’s eight, unbeaten in 10 years, winning a third straight gold medal. And there’s the U.S. women’s basketball team, showcasing a true Dream Team. There’s British distance legend Mo Farah. And there’s Ashton Eaton, the first back-to-back decathlon gold medalist since Daley Thompson.
And, of course, there’s Bolt, the sprinter who has never known defeat in three Olympics, an entertaining combination of joy and wonder.
This is just a list of the headliners who have been dominant. In terms of performance, this has been a compelling and unforgettable Olympics. It’s always tricky to do a ranking of the best Games because everyone’s criteria are different. Certainly, any comprehensive evaluation must include aesthetics, host preparedness and visitor experience, and so Rio was doomed from the beginning there. But when it comes to hosting greatness, it just might be peerless.
There have been Olympics in which the accomplishments have carried greater social significance, such as the 1936 Berlin Games. But if you’re just measuring the volume of dominant, all-time achievement, Rio has probably overtaken the 1960 Rome Games, which were graced by Cassius Clay, Wilma Rudolph, Rafer Johnson, Otis Davis, Herb Elliot, barefoot marathon gold medalist Abebe Bikila and the best amateur U.S. men’s basketball team ever, featuring Jerry West, Oscar Robertson and Jerry Lucas.
The good and evil of these Games — and the uneven reaction to it all — makes me think of the Eddie Murphy movie “Coming to America” and the scene in which the men from the barbershop are anticipating Randy Watson’s performance.
“That boy’s good,” one man says, excitedly.
“Mmm hmm,” his friend replies. “Yeah, good and terrible.”
Good: Bolt and Phelps, two candidates for greatest Olympian ever, exiting the stage as incredibly as they entered.
And terrible: Lochte’s antics have inspired the nickname Swim Shady, which is actually clever, but it’s sad to have to devote the mind to something so dumb.
You should be able to spend time pondering the greatness of Phelps and thinking of how he has raised the bar for the next generation of swimmers. You should be processing what Singapore’s Joseph Schooling said when he beat his idol in the 100-meter butterfly: “A lot of this is because of Michael. He’s the reason why I want to be a better swimmer.”
After Bolt won the 200 in 19.78 seconds, young Canadian sprinter Andre de Grasse showed his respect after finishing second.
“I was ready to challenge him,” de Grasse said. “He just ran away from me, and I couldn’t catch him.”
For a change, Bolt struggled on this rainy night. He still ran away from the field, but he wanted a time better than 19.78.His world record is 19.19. He talked about breaking the record again, but in the final 100 meters, he wasn’t electric.
“It’s just age,” said Bolt, 29.
If that’s aging, everyone needs to follow his diet.
A depressing day had given way to Bolt’s energizing spirit. If this is truly his final Olympics, Bolt will say goodbye to the Olympics on Friday, when he runs the anchor leg of the 4x100 relay for Jamaica. If the Jamaicans win, Bolt will have earned his coveted “triple triple” — gold medals in all three of his events for three straight Olympics.
On Thursday night, a depressing day gave way to the spirit of another great Olympic champion.
See, these Olympics are good.
Yeah, good and terrible.
For more by Jerry Brewer, visit washingtonpost.com/brewer.