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BILL PLASCHKE

Sprinter Usain Bolt is in no rush to leave the stage

After his dazzling 100-meter dash record win, Jamaican entertains the crowd and the media with his antics and words. He shows the stodgy Olympic world you can be great while being truly different.

August 06, 2012|Bill Plaschke
  • Usain Bolt strikes his familiar winner's pose after claiming gold in the 100 meters on Sunday at the London Olympics.
Usain Bolt strikes his familiar winner's pose after claiming gold… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

LONDON -- Usain Bolt kept running. Can you believe he kept running? He was already officially the fastest man in the world, the race was over, his competitors were kneeling and gasping, yet he kept running.

Skipping down the track in joy. Spreading his arms as if he were flying. Putting his finger to his mouth to shush his doubters. Breaking into a sudden somersault. Shaking his shoulder, bobbing his head, rolling his eyes.

And, yeah man, doing The Bolt.

You just knew the most dazzling star of these giant Olympics would be doing his trademark lightning-bolt gesture Sunday night after winning a second consecutive Olympic 100-meter dash in a Games record 9.63 seconds. Yet the most amazing part of the wonder he showered all over Olympic Stadium was what happened afterward, because he never really stopped bolting.

Usain Bolt kept running. Our finish line was his starting blocks. The end of these Olympics' most flash-popping moment was the beginning of his show. Only this 6-foot-5 Jamaican with the starry smile and lovable laugh, it seems, can knock seven other runners silly with possibly the greatest closing jab in track history … and that's the prelims.

"This is what I do," he said with a grin. "A lot of people come out to see what I'm gonna do today, tomorrow, it's fun for them, and I enjoy showing them."

Yeah, he certainly showed us. After blowing his opponents away in the final strides — I swear, he won a 100-meter race by what looked like 100 meters — he left most of the defeated field in a heap and took off down the track. The more he kept running, the more 80,000 fans kept roaring. Wrapped in a Jamaican flag, he jogged and celebrated for more than a lap, so long that an Olympic mascot eventually grabbed him as if to usher him off.

He shrugged off the mascot and grabbed a toy mascot instead, which he then shaped into a mini-lightning bolt.

Once he left the track, so many fans were gone, workers were already running the vacuum cleaner. He spent the next two hours doing interviews, moving so slowly through the broadcast area that he kept print reporters waiting in a crowded tunnel for more than 90 minutes.

But he was worth every second. He cradled the media microphone and said, Roar, and it was on.

"I've said it over the years, when it comes to the championships, this is what I do," he said.

He talked about how he needed to win the 200 meters to become a true legend — the first man to win both races in consecutive Olympics — and then jabbed at teammate Yohan Blake, who was standing at the other end of the tunnel. Blake beat him in the 100- and 200-meter dashes in Jamaica's Olympic trials, leading to doubts.

"I've told Yohan Blake that the 200 meter will be different because that's my pet event. I'm not going to let him beat me; remember I said that, Johnny?" Bolt shouted. "Yeah boyyy."

Bolt acknowledged that the only thing he had done so far in these Olympics was watch television.

"That's all I do, I put my foot up and watch TV ... saw Michael Phelps win his gold medal ... that's a lot of gold medals!" he said.

He admitted that his prerace meal wasn't exactly one of champions.

"I had a sandwich from McDonald's, a chicken wrap; don't judge me," he said.

He also said the Olympics have too many rules.

"Before the race they were telling us to walk out in a straight line ... you go here, you go here … and I'm like, really?" he said.

Hearing all this, American Justin Gatlin, who finished third, just sighed.

"Bolt is Bolt," he said.

Thank goodness for that. His champion showmanship is perhaps equaled only by the former Cassius Clay in Olympic history, and that's why Bolt is not only these Games' most famous figure, but perhaps one of its most important. He is the antithesis of today's carefully scripted Olympian image. He shows the stodgy Olympic world that you can be great while being truly different.

He talks outlandishly. He laughs goofily. He entertains right up until the moment his competition begins — did you see him standing at the starting blocks Sunday imitating a bunny rabbit, a barber and a guy spinning a record?

And then he delivers. None of this would work if he didn't deliver, but he always delivers. This is why Bolt's popularity spreads far outside the Olympic rings. Sports fans want their athletes to charm, but only if they also win. Bolt does both.

"People can talk all they want," he said. "But I show up on the day."

Most folks thought he would finally disappear Sunday after he was beaten by Blake this summer, and then barely tried in the preliminary heat. Heck, he was only the third-fastest runner after the semifinals.

"That's why this meant so much, because so many people doubted me, so many people had me getting beat," he said. "And I still came out and showed the world I'm the greatest."

I could have told you that in less than 10 seconds.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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