RIO DE JANEIRO — Usain Bolt’s only real competition was the clock. He couldn’t beat it. Another gold medal isn’t such a bad consolation prize.
The Jamaican superstar romped in what he says is his last Olympic 200-meter race Thursday night, but finished in 19.78 seconds, more than a half-second short of his own world record - the one he said he really wanted to break.
“I’m always happy for the win, but I wanted a faster time,” Bolt, who turns 30 on Sunday, told NBC. “I felt good, but when I came into the straight, my body wouldn’t respond to me. So I guess it’s just age and all the rounds that’s taken toll.”
A win is a win, and Bolt has gold medal No. 8, and a third straight 200 victory to go with the same trifecta in the 100. His run for No. 9 comes Friday in the 4x100 relays.
All good stuff. But his expression as he crossed the finish line told the real story of this one.
The field running far behind him through a thin mist - Andre de Grasse of Canada finished .24 behind and Christophe Lemaitre of France took bronze - Bolt was giving every ounce of effort, grimacing as he approached the line.
He glanced to his left to check out the clock just before he crossed. The time came up, and when Bolt saw it, he tilted his head back and yelled, stuck his hands wide open as if to say “Why?” then tore off the No. 6 sticker that was on his right hip.
At least the after-party was great. What’s new? With chants of “Usain Bolt, Usain Bolt” ringing out across a mostly full stadium, Bolt paraded around the track with his Jamaican flag, reggae music blared in the background, then the once-in-a-lifetime sprinter dropped to his knees and kissed the track before giving his iconic “To The World” pose.
His record in his favorite race still stands, though, at 19.19. He set it in 2009 at world championships, breaking the mark he’d previously set the year before (19.30) when he burst into the Olympics in Beijing.
Thursday’s was an all-out effort - no hot-dogging allowed - in the race Bolt has always called his baby. It’s the sprint he worked on from the very beginning. His coach wanted him to double in the 400, but that went out the window when he set his first world record in the 100 meters about two months before the Beijing Games.
So, the 100 was his hobby, the 200 was his day job, and when he started talking about goals for the Games, he said immortality was the main one. But the 200 record was also something he really, really wanted.
Why didn’t it happen?
There was a hamstring injury that forced him out of his national championship and reshuffled the schedule in the lead-up to the Olympics, though he looked no worse for wear in capturing the 100 four nights earlier.
There was the lightest sheen of rain that covered the track, though there has long been debate about whether a bit of moisture can help or hurt with speed.
There was the semifinal the night before, when de Grasse quite brazenly made Bolt work all the way to the line to capture a win, which allowed him to race from his favorite lane - Lane 6 - in the final.
The 21-year-old De Grasse had it coming and he got it. But his silver-medal finish - .10 ahead of Lemaitre - goes well with the bronze he took in the 100 and may pronounce him as the next great sprinter once Bolt leaves the scene.
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