Moments after Usain Bolt had clinched his eighth Olympic title with much the same ease as his other seven, he smiled serenely into the cameras and hollered: “Number one!” Once again, he had proven that he was the greatest sprinter in history. But, perhaps for the first time, there was something else: a sense that as he approaches his 30th birthday on Sunday, he is not quite able to hit the very highest notes as he once did.
Of course Bolt was still far too good for this field. He made a whip-sharp start and had established a lead of three or four metres by the bend. The rest was just noise – and poise – as he came home in 19.78sec. It was a season’s best time but also the slowest 200m he has run in a major championship final since 2008. Perhaps he was right to say that he would only be running the 100m at the world championships in London next year.
The Jamaican’s face as he crossed the line told you he expected to be quicker. Last year in Beijing he had run 19.55sec, off nowhere near as good a winter, and two days ago had even floated the possibility of breaking his own world record of 19.19, set in Berlin in 2009. That wasn’t to be, but victory – as usual provided more than adequate compensation.
“I am getting older, I am not as young and fresh, but I am excited I got the gold, and that is the key thing,” he admitted. “I focus on what I need to do because if I don’t there will not be a Usain Bolt. The fact I came here and everything worked out it is a brilliant feeling.”
At the press conference afterwards Bolt was asked whether he was angry at the finish. “I was disappointed,” he replied. “Always happy to win and wanted to run faster even if didn’t break world record. Thanks to de Grasse my legs were tired. My legs wouldn’t respond in the final. I’m getting older so don’t recover like I usually do. The key thing is I won which is what I came to do.”
“My legs just didn’t feel fresh. I’m not 26 anymore. I’m not 21 anymore. It’s not as easy as it used to be. I wanted it but my body couldn’t take it. The elements may have made a little bit of a difference.”
When asked whether this was his last 200m, he dangled the possibility of a U-turn, but his reaction suggested that was it. “I don’t know,” he replied. “I said when I come to the championships in London next year it would be 100m and that’s it. My coach has a way of trying to convince me, but personally I believe this is my last one.”
The nearest man to Bolt was the Canadian Andre De Grasse, who took silver in a modest 20.02 – nearly a quarter of a second slower than he had run in the semi-finals. During that race De Grasse had showed enough speed to catch, and then hold, a conversation with Bolt as they crossed the line. Such was the gap in the final, however, that he would have needed a megaphone to be heard.
Behind him an almighty battle was raging for bronze. For all the world it looked like Britain’s Adam Gemili was going to win it, but he perhaps dipped a tiny bit too early and found himself pipped on the line by the Frenchman Christophe Lemaitre. To add to the 22-year-old Gemili’s pain he was given the same time as Lemaitre, 20.12sec. Understandably he was heartbroken.
“I’m just heartbroken,” admitted Gemili. “I put so much into that run and to get so close is just absolutely gutted. I was on the inside and I knew Bolt would go and a lot of people would try and go with him. But fourth place is probably the worst place you can be. I’ve got no words. We’re not here to fill lanes any more. We’ve got guys who can make these finals and push.”
Meanwhile Bolt was off, accepting the dreamy love and cheers of the crowd. The result meant that he has won every Olympic and world title over 200m since 2008. But there is another statistic that shows his dominance in his favourite event. Since the start of 2008, he has run exactly 50 races in over 200m. And only twice has he lost – in the heats of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, when he strolled around the track and allowed the Trinidad and Tobago athlete Rondell Sorrillo to beat him, and at the 2012 Jamaican trials where Yohan Blake pipped him to the post.
Despite not being at his best here, that record was never in doubt.