"You are all in the presence of a living legend, you can bask in my glory. Now, go back to your countries and tell your people that I am a legend," that's how Usain Bolt finished addressing the world media after an interaction that lasted past midnight.
From his antics it would be easy to presume that this man is exceedingly arrogant. After all, he was presumptuous enough to say even before he came to London that he was looking to be a 'living legend'. But then this is the same man who went up to a volunteer before his race and asked her how she was doing? When she said she was nervous he told her to take it easy! This, just minutes before he shot off the blocks to become the only man to successfully defend his 100 and 200m Olympic gold.
Before the race began, Bolt was not doing his usual antics or making cartoonish gestures like he did before the 100m final. He looked far more serious. Just when one began to wonder whether the pressure was getting to him, he did a new one — moving his arms up and down to mimic lifting barbells. About 10m from the finish he knew he had it in the bag and as he looked towards Yohan Blake straining to catch up on his left, he put his finger to his lips in another gesture of flamboyance and possible arrogance. He was back to being the clown after breasting the tape as he instantly got down to reel off a few pushups as if to illustrate that this was hardly an exertion for him; that he had a lot more in him.
Bolt explained the finger later saying it was to shut up everybody who doubted his ability. He said he had slowed down a bit for he had felt a minor strain in his back as he blitzed around the curve. The staggered nature of the 200m start and the curve in the track makes it difficult for those watching the race to judge as to just who is placed where till they hit the home straight on the last 100ms. But Bolt used his superior speed on the turn to pull away. He hit the straight just ahead of Blake and then his longer stride just pulled him away from the field.
Various antics across the stadium during the victory lap and then nearly two-and-a-half hours of questioning after, Bolt entered the press conference where a host of bleary-eyed media awaited. If anybody was feeling a bit dull after the long day, Bolt broke the tension with a jig and saying "Now, drum rollllll....". The smiles that triggered refused to ebb till the end of the interaction as he has an uncanny knack of being funny and gentle with people even if they are asking questions that he may not wish to answer. Of course, it's all the easier when you know everybody in that room is in awe of what you have just managed.
The one question that got Bolt's attention and made him sit up straight was about drug use. "We are clean," he said, "We train harder than anybody." A similar poser was thrown Blake's way about his three-month suspension in 2009 for testing positive to a stimulant. He answered that with a philosophical take on how life and its obstacles teaches one so much.
This correspondent desperately wants to believe that Bolt and the rest of the Jamaican super-athletes are clean. Reportedly, a certain gene pool from West Africa has a preponderance of fast-twitch fibres of the kind that allow those people and their descendants to dominate the speed world. Hard training hones this natural talent into world-beating running machines. However, the athletics world has been plagued by too many doping scandals for one to ignore the murmurs that dog the sport.
Doping gurus keep making claims that a majority of the athletes are using designer drugs that can't be detected. The latest rules ensure that blood samples are kept for a period of eight years after the event to be subjected to newer tests that may come up as the authorities play catch with the cutting edge scientific support that most athletes have. The mysterious death of Florence Griffith Joyner, who still holds the record for the fastest women's 100 and 200ms, at 38, the tears of Marion Jones and the incessant speculation over legendary cyclist Lance Armstrong has made this writer wary of whether what we see is real.
One can only hope that eight years later Bolt's samples still pass as clean. The world's faith has been severely tested by athletics before. It may not recover from another blow.