Vahe Gregorian

Jamaica’s Usain Bolt again shatters all bounds at Rio Olympics

Jamaica's Usain Bolt took the baton on the last leg of the men's 400-meter relay final from teammate Nickel Ashmeade for the gold medal on Friday in Rio.
Jamaica's Usain Bolt took the baton on the last leg of the men's 400-meter relay final from teammate Nickel Ashmeade for the gold medal on Friday in Rio. deulitt@kcstar.com

Immediacy bias must just be part of human nature, hard-wired into us in a way that compels reflexive thinking.

That’s why the most recent version of something special we saw is disproportionately proclaimed the best or worst or most ever ... and right away, of course.

That mentality obviously has escalated with the incubator of impulse and unfiltered observations that is Twitter and other social media.

But ... but ... but ...

However you might want to pause for perspective ...

Along comes the jaw-dropping Usain Bolt, who on Friday night became the first man ever to win three consecutive gold medals in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter dashes when he zoomed away from a clumped field as the anchor in the relay.

His uncanny dominance was juxtaposed on Friday in a race that appeared to further reveal the human vulnerability of Team USA, which was ruled to have passed the baton outside the zone on its first exchange (between Missouri native Mike Rodgers of St. Louis and Justin Gatlin) and thus forfeited an initially apparent bronze. (Late Friday, video was being reviewed by officials per a USA Track and Field request).

It might have been just another anticlimactic “race” involving Bolt of Jamaica ... if it weren’t such an intoxicating sight to see him again make his world-class competitors look like novices as he seems to shatter all bounds.

“There you go,” Bolt said afterward. “I am the greatest.”

Who could argue?

This came a night after his lopsided victory in the 200-meter dash had left him bluntly stating his wish to be known “among the greatest” and thus with the likes of “Ali and Pele.”

“I hope after these Games,” he said, “I will be in that bracket.”

So Bolt seeks a seat among the transformative immortals, a debate a tier above the more humdrum one here about who bestrides the Rio Games as its reigning athlete.

The most popular nominees seem to be Bolt, swimmers Michael Phelps (you know the preposterous lifetime achievement case) and Katie Ledecky (the Secretariat of the pool) and gymnast Simone Biles (touted by insiders as the best ever).

And you probably could and would make a case for some others depending on your criteria and nationality.

It’s a fun but distinctly subjective topic, a big game of rock-paper scissors that hinges on what achievements or skills could be deemed more challenging or meaningful than others.

There is probably some serious science that could be employed to provide a bloodless assessment, but in the end it’s probably more meaningful just to appreciate what Biles said the other day.

“I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps,” she said. “I’m the first Simone Biles.”

Which is to say so she is so days ago, like Phelps, with Bolt standing at the epicenter of everything on Friday night.

More seriously, however you might want to file or reconcile Bolt’s unparalleled greatness in such a fundamental event, he is a transcendent figure that makes you lift out of your seat and feel like Jack Buck making the call on Kirk Gibson’s home run in the 1988 World Series.

“I don’t believe,” he said, “what I just saw!”

Nine times now, from Beijing to London to Rio, you could say that and feel it in the current generated by Bolt.

Nine times now, you could feel like the character Elmo (J.C. Quinn) in the movie “Vision Quest,” as he explains to wrestler Louden Swain (Matthew Modine) why he was willing to have his pay docked to take a night off to go see his friend compete in the match of his life.

One night, he starts, he was watching “the Mexican channel on TV” when he saw Pele come onto the screen.

“I don’t know nothin’ about Pele,” he says. “I’m watching what this guy can do with a ball and his feet. Next thing I know, he jumps up in the air and flips into a somersault and kicks the ball in. Upside down and backwards. ...

“Pele gets excited, and he rips off his jersey and starts running around the stadium waving it around over his head. Everybody’s screaming ... I’m here, sitting alone in my room, and I start crying.”

He paused, then he added, “Yeah, that’s right, I start crying. Because another human being, a species which I happen to belong to, could kick a ball and lift himself and the rest of us sad ... human beings up to a better place to be. If only for a minute.”

That doesn’t necessarily make Bolt into Pele or Ali, the two most-recognized athletes of the 20th century around the globe for reasons that included their athletic brilliances but extended well beyond.

Bolt is young yet, turning 30 on Sunday in what he insists is his last Olympics, and his broader deeds and influence outside sport will determine what his ultimate legacy is.

But he’s an athlete who has inspired adoration all over the world by doing things that lift the rest of us with him, well, that’s really all we need to understand just now.

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