Beyond the Boxscore
The Most Interesting Olympian in the World does not keep a secret girlfriend — who he promptly leaves behind to party with the guys. The Most Interesting Olympian in the World does not act like a petulant diva for years, almost tearing apart a team and an entire program, only to turn around and wax poetic about teamwork to Bob Costas with gold in hand.
No, The Most Interesting Olympian in the World just dominates. Every time. On the globe's grandest stage. Whenever it truly counts.
Usain Bolt only wins gold — in the most spectacular ways possible. He proves it for the third time in Saturday's 4x100 relay, turning a dead heat with the American team into another Bolt runaway in his 100 meters, the last 100 meters of these Games.
He didn't just blow away the other would-be fastest men in the world in these London Olympics. He lapped Michael Phelps, who couldn't capture everyone's attention the way he had in Beijing. He ran circles around Hope Solo, the U.S. Women's Soccer goalie who confuses being beautiful and talented with being charismatic — and dominant.
The loudest athlete in the Olympics is also the easiest to root for — and far more interesting than all the American stars driving another medal count romp.
Bolt is the athlete of the XXX Olympiad, and whoever took silver isn't even close.
For it's Bolt and then everyone else.
It's not so much that Phelps wasn't quite as spectacular in these games — he did still completely expose so-called rival Ryan Lochte as the reality TV-level "star" that Lochte himself is now scheming to become. Phelps was still great. But he came across as almost bored and burdened by the London Olympics, by his place in the sports world.
He "hid" his girlfriend until it was convenient for him, treating her like some sort of media pawn rather than a person. He talked endlessly about his need to get away and live a normal life — as if he hasn't benefited greatly from his time in the spotlight.
Then there's Bolt. He's as known and dissected around the world as Phelps, he's as hounded by international fame. Yet the Jamaican superstar embraces it, turns it into part of his act.
Few athletes in history grab the stage quite like Bolt. It's not just about the Lightning poses that are threatening to give Tebowing a run for its money. It's not just about the clowning with that ridiculous Olympic mascot. It's not just about fueling the legend talk that other athletes would run away from.
Bolt is so over the top, his bragging is more performance art than offensive.
No, it's about having fun with sports.
That's what beats at the heart of all of Bolt's showmanship and dramatics . . . fun. It's why the loudest athlete in the Olympics is also the easiest to root for — and far more interesting than all the American stars driving another medal count romp.
Bolt gets that big-time sports depend on an audience. It means little if you're running in an empty stadium. So Bolt makes sure everyone in a packed palace of a venue has a good time.
He's the one modern athlete who is capable of dancing the line that Muhammad Ali ruled for years: Bolt manages to be both the cockiest athlete in the Olympics and one of the most lovable.
It's hard not to leave a Usain Bolt race with a smile on your face. Whether you're watching it live in London, online for the real-time simulcast or as part of NBC's endlessly taped-delayed primetime show.
"I've done what I came here to do," Bolt says in the press conference after his third gold in three events.
What the 25-year-old Bolt's done is thrill the world with his unprecedented powerful speed. His almost cartoon-figure-like pull away from the fastest 100-meter field in history grabbed the Olympics by the throat and Bolt didn't let go until there was little left to decide in London besides how much Mike Krzyzewski tears up in his final Olympic press conference.
How fascinating is Bolt? How much has he utterly dominated these Summer Games?
Even IOC President Jacques Rogge cannot help but comment on Bolt, with the 70-year-old despot insisting that the runner is not a legend yet, that he must do more. Hey, Rogge's not stupid.
He knows he needs Bolt for Rio in 2016. That's how big of a superstar Bolt is. He makes any Olympics more compelling.
You have to be as old as Rogge or Costas to not appreciate Bolt. How can you not get a kick out of a guy who tries to run away with the official Olympic baton after the 4x100, drawing a scolding from the uptight race officials? Bolt is so over the top, his bragging is more performance art than offensive.
Yet there's Costas chiding in his best schoolmarm tone, "As great as Bolt is, it's hard to have a higher opinion of him than he does of himself" as NBC leaves the track and field venue for the last time.
Lighten up, Bob. No one gets more overblown than NBC itself. And Usain Bolt's made your overwrought, two-week TV show.
Bringing The Show
Bolt manages to talk big and preen without venturing into Reggie Jackson territory. Even when he's firing back at Rogge or making silly, angry statements about not respecting the University of Houston's own Carl Lewis, Bolt still comes across like he's having fun.
Hope Solo so desperately wants to be an edgy star, yet she still often seems lost in fame.
Contrast that with U.S. Women's Soccer star Hope Solo, who always seems to be bothered by something. After playing well in the Gold Medal Match against Japan (having been gifted a berth in the final by some horrendous calls against Canada in the semis), Solo still feels the need to tell Costas that this is the first time she's felt like she's been on a true team.
Is that because Solo destroyed other teams by whining about being replaced in goal? Or that she become so involved in a Twitter fight with Brandi Chastain, one of the women who made Solo's level of crossover stardom possible, that she kept the focus off the actual on-field play?
Solo so desperately wants to be an edgy star, yet she still often seems lost in fame. Michael Phelps sometimes seems to be wrestling with fame, happiest when he's tuning out the world and listening to the music blaring over his expensive headphones.
Usain Bolt has no such issues. There may be no one in the world more comfortable in his own skin.
Everyone wants to be The Most Interesting Olympian in the World. But only one superhuman is equipped to handle it.
There's Usain Bolt streaking across the London night, leaving everyone else behind.
It's OK to sit forward and stare. And just smile.