August 16, 2016 - 8:47am
There was not the usual swagger; hardly the animated gestures and witty remarks which defined Usain Bolt till London 2012. It was a rather subdued Usain, a more modest version of him that the Rio's Olympic Stadium saw leading up to the 100m race and then at the mixed zone or the press conference two hours later.
But for 9.81 seconds on Sunday night, for the 9.81 seconds which is perhaps the first of three steps to redefining sprint history. Bolt was the same old Bolt -- typically sluggish off the blocks, playing catch-up with the frontrunner for halfway through the race before a dash of lightning speed saw him leave the others in his wake, including his great rival Justin Gatlin as he chest-thumped his way to victory. The 100m sprint victory completed an unprecedented treble in Olympic history and took the Jamaican one step closer to a historic 'triple triple'.
"Stay tuned, two more to go," the Jamaican said at the press conference. "Somebody said last year I can become immortal. Two more medals to go and I can sign off. Immortal.”
But for 70 metres of the race, or close to seven seconds for that matter, Bolt's bid for immortality was put under serious challenge by the pantomime villain Justin Gatlin. The American, a two-time dope offender, was booed all the way to the start of the race as the eight competitors emerged from the tunnel. It was billed as the 'battle between good and evil'; it was a battle between the fastest sprinter in the history of mankind and the fastest sprinter of the year, who had also set the fastest time in the semifinals.
If Bolt's typical sluggish start was taken as the usual pattern of his operation, the Jamaican surely played with the nerves of the 70,000 at the Olympic Stadium and billions worldwide watching it on TV. He was trailing three quarters of the way as Gatlin, the American who was out to beat his great rival for one time at the biggest stage, surged past everyone. But then the burst of speed towards the final 25 metres took Bolt beyond Gatlin as a collective sigh of relief gave way to a deafening roar from the crowd.
This was the moment everyone had waited for.
"It wasn't perfect today but I got it done and I'm pretty proud of what I've achieved -- nobody else has done it or even attempted it," Bolt later exclaimed.
As the chant 'Usain, Usain' kept ringing around the stands, the 29-year-old Jamaican took a leisurely lap around the track, posing in his trademark lightning bolt celebration and shaking hands with adoring fans before making his way towards the mixed zone.
"He always gets a great start and mine wasn't so good but I just thought 'don't panic, work my way back," Bolt told reporters. "On the replay it looked worse than it felt in the race and after feeling so good in the semis I was very confident. I just had to keep my composure and execute. And that's what I did. For me it is big because to do this three times ... no one has ever done it before or even attempted it."
The Jamaican, who will be competing in the 200m and 4X100 metre relay later in the week to complete his bid of nine gold medals from three Olympic Games, said he was happy to have the recurring dream of being chased played out in his sleep over and over again as long as he ends up winning. "It is always that same dream every now and then, but it is a good dream because they never catch me."
And it looks like it will take a superman effort to catch Bolt and keep him from achieving the triple triple.