Usain Bolt eyes place beside Muhammad Ali and Pele

Usain Bolt takes a selfie as he celebrates with fans after winning the Olympic 200m final in Rio. Picture: Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images
Usain Bolt takes a selfie as he celebrates with fans after winning the Olympic 200m final in Rio. Picture: Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images
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So Usain Bolt wants to break bread with Muhammad Ali and Pele, a divinity with a permanent seat in Avalon’s high chamber. The esteem in which he holds those giants of the 20th-century sporting canon is touching, but why stop there?

How about a statue of Bolt atop Sugarloaf Mountain, respectfully lower than Mount Corcovado, host to Christ the Redeemer, but sufficiently grand to do justice to Bolt’s idea of himself as the defining athlete of the age, a one-off superhuman?

Thursday night in Rio was Bolt night, his appearance at the Olympic Stadium in the 200m final the hottest ticket in town, or it would have been had the cost of entry been priced to meet rank-and-file demand, which ultimately found expression around television screens in bars and pop-ups dotted about the city.

Those buff enough of pocket, or connected enough to the Rio hierarchies, were cast as proxy agents happy to shower on the occasion enough maniacal reverence to justify talk of casting in concrete, at a site of sufficient global prestige, a fitting representation of Bolt.

The clock is no longer the measure of him. Speed is a necessary part of the construct but does not explain the cultish hold Bolt has over his subjects. It is a pity on this occasion that a modest field could not demand more of his grandeur. Apart from the feisty prompt from Canadian Andre de Grasse in the semi-finals – in Bolt’s view chasing him unnecessarily hard to the tape – none has come close to discomfiting our idol.

The march to an unprecedented hat-trick of Olympic 200m titles to match the 100m benchmark he had already set was processional, like a military parade through Red Square, a muscular power flex to demonstrate how lethal outcomes might be if provoked.

Bolt’s arrival wrenched an atmosphere that might be described as sub-Crystal Palace to something approximating a world-class event – and that, in a stadium barely half full, was testament to his iconic quality.

In full Bolt mode, he pranced and preened to the blasting music, even busting a few shapes to the bossa nova when the cameras fell on him on the blocks. When you are so much better than the rest, why wouldn’t you feel like dancing?

Bolt could have been doing the crossword in a newspaper, so nonchalant was he in crossing the line in a time of 19.87 seconds. The hard work began with the lap of honour to a soundtrack of reggae rhythms.

“I ran hard around the turn. On the straight, my body didn’t respond. I’m getting old,” he said.

Piffle. Bolt is timeless, which, of course, he knows. “I am trying to be one of the greatest, to be among Ali and Pele. I hope after these Games I will be in that bracket,” he said. “I don’t need to prove anything else. What else can I do to prove to the world I am the greatest?”

There will doubtless be a discussion about where best to exit the scene, with organisers in London hoping next year’s World Championships in a city he loves might be persuasive.

Thereafter he lives on in the highlights reel of the soul, breasting the tape with Jesse Owens, shadow-boxing with Ali, playing three-and-in with Pele, the great Brazilian in goal, of course.