Duro Ikhazuagbe in Rio de Janeiro
After crossing the finish line of the men’s 4x100m relay event of the 31st Olympic Games here in Rio de Janeiro on Friday night (2.00am Saturday morning in Nigeria) Jamaican Usain Bolt equalled the best ever gold medal tally of a track won by any athlete in the 120-year history of the modern Games.
The 29-year-old gangling Jamaican athlete eclipsed the earlier nine gold medals and one silver won by American Carl Lewis between 1984 and 1996. Four of Lewis’s titles were won in the long jump pit and not on the track.
One of the first stars of the track and field, Finland’s Paavo Nurmi, is the only athlete to have won nine track titles from a wide range of distance events between 1920 and 1928.
But given the global nature of athletics in the modern era, many track buffs will definitely see Bolt’s feats as more difficult to achieve.
And the playful Jamaican made no mistake in claiming to be the greatest-ever athlete of all time at the Olympic Games shortly after leading Asafa Powell, Yohan Blake and Nickel Ashmeade in 37.27 seconds to claim that ninth gold medal of his illustrious track career.
Japan and Canada settled for the silver and bronze medals respectively while the USA quartet led by Justin Gatlin was disqualified from the sprint relay after initially finishing third for infraction.
Did Bolt ever think it was possible for him to dominate track and field the way he has done since his first gold medal at the Olympic Games in Beijing, China in 2008?
“Not even close. I would have never thought I could go back-to-back-to-back Olympics, you know what I mean.
“That first one (Beijing 2008), I was just happy. That second one (London 2012) was a challenge. And then to come here (Rio 2016) and do the third one is just unbelievable.
“For me, it’s something that I hope I set the bar high enough, so that no one can do it again. I’m just proud of myself,” gushed the Jamaican who had before the race claimed that he was on the verge of becoming immortal.
Asked what he meant by ‘Immortal’ by the hordes of track and field reporters at the mixed zone of the Olympic Stadium here in Rio, Bolt, scanned the room in his playful manner before venturing an answer.
“To me, (immortal) is unbeatable. People always ask me if I’m unbeatable, and when it comes to a world championship, personally I think I am unbeatable. I am the greatest now. As soon as I got my hand on the stick, I knew I won. Because there is no-one on that (last) leg that could outrun me to the finish line,” he said as a matter of fact with no apology to anyone before him in the sport.
Bolt admitted that hard work is what has brought him this far in the business of sprint. He also revealed that self-denials are also some of the qualities that made him achieve the feat of nine gold medals in the sprint and relay of three Olympics back-to-back-and –back.
“Hard work man. Hard work and sacrifice. I’ve sacrificed so much throughout the season, throughout the years. I’ve been through so much. It’s just sweat and tears man, sweat and tears,” observed the Jamaican who is the face of the sport in the last decade.
Now that his ambition has been achieved, the 100m and 200m world record holder at 9.58secs and 19.19secs respectively is relieved and done with the Olympic Games as there is nothing more for him to prove.
“Definitely, all the weight is gone now. It’s a relief, I’ve done it all. I’ve accomplished so much. I’m just proud of myself that I executed and got it done. I have a saying: ‘Nothing is impossible’. I never set limits for myself. I’ve always wanted to push the barriers and that’s what I did. I accomplished what I wanted to and it’s a joy. I’m happy. There’s nothing else I can do but to push on and enjoy what I’ve done over the years,” observed the Jamaican showman who is going to be missed by track buffs.
On serving Jamaica beyond sport, Bolt admits he is going to remain a good ambassador of his Caribbean country. “I’m a great ambassador (of Jamaica). I try to live up to my country’s needs, and I always try to push my country on top and be the best I can be. I’ve brought more tourists to my country, more jobs. I’ve done as much as I possibly can for my country and will continue to do so after I retire from the sport. I will continue to uplift my country.”
But before heading to his last competition before retiring finally next year at the IAAF World Championships in London, what is on Bolt’s mind now is holiday. He said he is longing for a good vacation. “Vacation is the next thing for me now. This is my last Olympics. I’m sorry guys but this is the last one,” stressed Bolt as he signed off from his last Olympic Games post-race briefing inside the Olympic Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on Friday night.