After an age in which practically every "fastest man" in the world was greeted with suspicion, or at best acted with cringe-inducing arrogance, the jet-heeled wonder that is Usain Bolt has taken track and field onto a new plane over the past four years.
It’s generally accepted that the 6’5" phenomenon wasn’t quite at peak fitness prior to the London Olympics, and that he came through with flying black, yellow and green colours was a source of much relief as well as rejoicing.
The giant Jamaican’s unrivaled appeal goes far beyond his running prowess. Though he fell a few fractions of a second short of his stellar Beijing best in the land of "Blighty," there was universal delight at his swashbuckling defence of the sprint golds.
Asked to account for his unparalleled popularity, “He’s the man” shrugged an unusually gobsmacked Michael Johnson, the American legend who is fast becoming the most authoritative athletics voice on the planet through his astute assessments for the BBC.
Like millions of others, Johnson, whose nickname was simply "Superman," is drawn to Bolt’s natural charisma. A human bullet who doubles as a global ambassador for good vibes and high fives, celebrating his triumphs with the same showmanship he produces prior to the starter’s pistol.
Johnson doubts whether Bolt—who admits he doesn’t do the hard yards as diligently as training partner and twin runner-up Yohan Blake (also a victorious relay teammate)—has the motivation to attempt three-on-the-trot in Rio.
Though just turned 26, Usain’s lack of appetite for longevity was evident in a 2010 "Beeb" profile-documentary (The Fastest Man Who Has Ever Lived, which Johnson presented). Heading to the English capital, retaining his twin titles was necessary to join the all-time greats, and an anxious Bolt accepted.
A decade on from his emergence as a prodigiously talented junior, he’s most definitely achieved that. So now what?
On Irish television, RTE expert, the astute and hirsute Jerry Kiernan, suggested that a step up to the 400-meter dash might appeal, arguing that if Bolt could eclipse Johnson’s world record, he would really achieve “immortality.” (A tough taskmaster is Jerry.)
The once-scrawny talent from the tiny parish of Trelawny has previously declared his disinterest in the one-lap distance.
Yet with Blake (new PB 9:69) rapidly bridging the gap—Bolt’s troublesome hamstring notwithstanding—the world’s most grounded superstar may just be tempted to try and out-fly "Superman."
Keep an eye on those phone booths between now and Brazil.