Usain Bolt tilted his head backward and screamed. He plaintively raised his palms to the sky, tugged hard on his shirt, then tore off the No 6 sticker stuck to his right hip and threw it to the ground.
It had the look of an unthinkable loss in the Olympic 200 meters.
But there’s only one opponent who can really beat Bolt: Time.
The Jamaican superstar romped in what he says is likely his last Olympic individual race on Thursday night, but finished in 19.78 seconds, .59 short of his own world record — the one he said he really wanted to break.
“I’m always happy for the win,” said Bolt, who turns 30 on Sunday, in a post-race interview with NBC. “But I wanted a faster time.”
Hard to argue with a win, though, and Bolt has Olympic gold medal No eight, and a third straight 200 title to go with the same trifecta in the 100m. His run for No nine comes Friday in the 4×100 relays.
All good stuff. But that expression as he crossed the finish line told the real story.
Bolt was leading before the legs on his 6-foot-5 frame had even powered him through the first curve. The field chased him through a thin mist that started about 30 minutes before the race. Andre de Grasse of Canada finished .24 behind and Christophe Lemaitre of France squeaked out bronze by .003 over Adam Gemili of Britain. You could’ve driven a truck through the gap between first and second place.
Way up ahead, Bolt gave every ounce of effort — no hot-dogging or celebrating early as was his wont in some of his best 100s — his arms pumping hard, face twisted with pain and effort as he hugged the left edge of his lane and approached the line.
He glanced to his left to check out the clock. The time came up, and when Bolt saw it, the reaction looked more like that of someone who’d lost than won.
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 while the reggae music blared in the background. 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.
He’d even suggested he could break the 19-second barrier — who will ever do that now? — 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.
“What else can I do to the world to prove I am the greatest? I’m trying to be one of the greatest. Be among Ali and Pele,” Bolt said after the race. “I hope after these games, I will be in that bracket.”
He’s there already. But, oh, how that 200 record beckoned.
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 that lightest coating of rain that glistened off 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.
And, of course, Bolt isn’t 21 anymore.
De Grasse is, and after the act he put on the night before, it was clear he had it coming. 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.
In the lead-up to the Olympics, Bolt insisted now’s the time.
Asked again after his race, he left the smallest glimmer of hope for his sport, for his fans and for anyone who loves a good show.
“I want to say so,” he said. “I think this is the last one.”