LONDON >> When the stakes are the biggest, the spotlight most bright, Usain Bolt is as good as gold.
Good as there’s ever been.
Putting the field far enough behind that he could slow up over the last few strides and put his left index finger to his mouth to tell any critics to shush, Bolt won the 200 meters in 19.32 seconds Thursday night, making him the only man with two Olympic titles in that event.
He added it to the 100 gold he won Sunday, duplicating the 100-200 double he produced at the Beijing Games four years ago. The only difference? In 2008, Bolt broke world records in both.
This time, Bolt led a Jamaican sweep, with his training partner and pal Yohan Blake getting the silver in 19.44, and Warren Weir taking the bronze in 19.84 — more than a half-second behind the champion.
“The guy is just on another planet right now,” Wallace Spearmon, the American who finished fourth in 19.90, said between sobs of disappointment.
Afterward, Bolt had plenty of energy left, dropping to the track to do five pushups — one for each of his Olympic gold medals so far. Ever the showman, he bent down and kissed the track, then did it again a few minutes later, and also grabbed a camera from someone in the photographers’ well and trained it at the group clicking away.
Bolt’s stated goal heading to London was to become a “living legend,” and, well, he’s making a pretty good case for himself, even if International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said a few hours before the 200 final that it’s too early to make such determinations.
“The career of Usain Bolt has to be judged when the career stops,” said Rogge, who criticized the Jamaican four years ago for showboating by slapping himself on the chest at the finish of the 100.
“Let him participate in three, four games, and he can be a legend,” Rogge added. “Already he’s an icon.”
That’s for sure.
In Beijing, Bolt became the first man to win the 100, 200, and 4×100 relay at a single Summer Games, and all in world-record times, no less.
In London, he became the first man to win two Olympic golds in the 200, and he did it consecutively, too. He’s also only the second man — joining Carl Lewis of the U.S. — with back-to-back 100 golds, and Lewis won his second when rival Ben Johnson was disqualified after failing a drug test.
In all, the 25-year-old Bolt has won seven of the last eight major individual sprint titles in the 100 and 200 at Olympics and world championships, a four-year streak of unprecedented dominance. The only exception was a race he never got to run: Bolt was disqualified for a false start in the 100 final at last year’s world championships, and Blake got the gold.
There have been other small setbacks for Bolt, who was troubled by minor leg and back injuries that were blamed for losses to Blake in the 100 and 200 at the Jamaican Olympic trials. That sparked some handwringing back home in Jamaica about how Bolt would do in London.
Seems rather silly at the moment.
“Two times in a row. World championships, too,” said Churandy Martina of the Netherlands, fifth Thursday in 20 seconds flat. “He can say whatever he wants. … He did all those things.”
And even if Bolt didn’t manage to break his own world records at these Olympics (his 9.63 Sunday was the second-fastest 100 in history, behind only his 9.58 from 2009), he certainly has managed to reinvent sprinting.
Unusually tall for a sprinter, the 6-foot-5 Bolt towered over the 5-11 Blake and 5-10 Weir as they posed together with Jamaican flags after their 1-2-3 finish. Bolt uses his long, long, long strides to propel himself past opponents. The sixth-fastest of eight entrants out of the blocks in the 200, he had made up the stagger on at least two other finalists before the turn.
Into the stretch, Bolt was at warp speed, gritting his teeth and pulling away. The only man who had any possible chance of challenging him was Blake. And that didn’t really materialize.
By the end, it didn’t matter that Bolt let up for his final three steps, taking a look to his left to check on Blake, who also was the silver medalist in the 100.
Still, Bolt’s time was exactly the same as three-time individual Olympic gold medalist Michael Johnson’s when the American set the then-record at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics: 19.32. Back then, the thinking was that would stand as the mark for decades.
Then along came Bolt.
His 19.30 in the 200 final at Beijing still stands as the Olympic record — and certainly would have been eclipsed Thursday with a full-fledged sprint through the finish — but Bolt bettered that with a 19.19 at the 2009 world championships, where he also set the current 100 record.
Now he’ll try to make it 6 for 6 over the last two Olympics in the 4×100-meter relay, where Jamaica can’t count on the injured Asafa Powell, the former world-record holder in the 100 and the anchor man in 2008. Still, with Bolt, Blake and Weir presumably on the squad, there’s no question who will be favored. Qualifying starts Friday; the final is Saturday.
Is Bolt the best of his era? No doubt about it.
Best ever? That’s subjective, of course, and fodder for talk-radio drive time. But it’s awfully tough to argue against Bolt’s bona fides, his titles and his times.
There was one world record established at 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium on Thursday: David Rudisha of Kenya won the 800 meters in 1 minute, 40.91 seconds, improving his own standard by 0.10.
“I know people love Bolt,” Rudisha said, when asked about being overshadowed by the sport’s biggest star. “I’m happy for him, and I’m happy for me.”
Rudisha whimsically entertained the prospect of a showdown over 400 meters against Bolt, who used to run that distance but abandoned it because it was too much of a grind.
“He’s the greatest sprinter we’ve seen in the world over many years,” Rudisha said.
Elsewhere Thursday, Americans went 1-2 in the decathlon (Ashton Eaton and Trey Hardee) and the triple jump (Christian Taylor and Will Claye), raising the U.S. track and field total with three days to go to 24 medals, one higher than the country’s total in Beijing.
Jamaica is tied for second with nine track medals after Thursday — four from Bolt and Blake.
When that pair returned to collect their prizes and hear their national anthem once again, Bolt did his now-customary leap up to the top step of the podium. He kissed his medal, then bit it.
Bolt’s a playful sort, someone who likes to run fast races, drive fast cars (he’s been at the wheel for some minor accidents in Jamaica), eat fast food (he copped to grabbing meals of chicken nuggets in Beijing, and wrap sandwiches in London, all from a famous chain restaurant).
Before Thursday’s victory, Bolt was wearing a backward yellow baseball cap with a black interlocking “UB,” and he added a special British-flavored touch to all his prerace preening, holding a hand aloft for a simple royal wave. Then he curled his arms, first one, then the other, pretending he was lifting barbells, and looked right at a TV camera.
As ever, ready for his close-up.