It didn't take long for the pose to hit the streets of Beijing. The Chinese were doing it. So were the Greeks, the Germans, too. Heck, people from all over the world were cocking one arm back while pointing the other to the sky, all in a tribute to the fastest man in the world.
In 9.69 seconds, Usain Bolt won a gold medal, broke a world record and managed to show off some personality to boot. When he capped his blistering win in the 100 meters with his now-famous "to-the-world" pose, it was as if he was saying, "Shoot for the moon," because anything – even a sub-9.7 100 meters – is possible.
"I always knew that this was possible," said Ato Boldon, who called the race for NBC and was the 2000 silver medalist in the 100 meters. "Now to see somebody actually do it, as a fan of the sport, I was absolutely in awe of what he was able to do."
In the late-1990s, Boldon and Maurice Greene, the man who beat him in the 2000 Sydney Games, talked frequently about how low someone could go. They were certain it was possible to run the 100 meters in 9.4 seconds, or three-tenths faster than anyone had ever run it before. Both Boldon and Greene already had the first part down, running the first 50 meters or so quick enough to keep 9.4 in sight. Problem was they couldn't finish it.
"We decelerated too much at the end," Boldon explained.
Even though they couldn't break the barrier, they knew someone eventually would. So on Aug. 16, 2008, when Bolt cruised to the 100-meter win in Beijing by "daylight," as NBC's Tom Hammond exclaimed – pulling up at the end and still setting a new world record – Boldon saw the man who could accelerate the sprint toward 9.4.
"Along comes a guy with a 400-meters background, who's 6-5 and does not decelerate," Boldon said. "Now I look at this guy and think, 'It is possible.' "
The 100 meters isn't normally an event for tall runners. Getting their bigger bodies up to speed typically takes longer, and by the time they get to full steam, the race is over and someone else has won. Bolt is the exception. He has an unnatural ability to uncurl his 6-5 frame out of the starting block and toward a top-speed sprint nearly as fast as his more diminutive competition.
Nearing the 30-meter mark of the 100 in Beijing, Bolt was shoulder-to-shoulder with the field. At that point the race was over, because Bolt's top-end speed and endurance over the final 70 meters could not be matched.
That he was able to set a world record despite beginning his celebration 20 meters from the finish line is rather easy to explain: When a Mack truck is cruising at top speed, it's difficult to slow down. On the track, Bolt and his powerful 6-5 frame is like a Mack truck. He may decelerate, but not that quickly.
"I was in the Michael Johnson race when he set the world record [in the 200 meters]. There was a hushed, stunned silence in the stadium," explained Boldon, referring to the 1996 Games when Johnson shattered the world record by more than .2. "Bolt's race in Beijing was 10 times as great as that. People were in absolute shock. They could not believe what they had just seen."
And to think in the days leading up to the track and field events, Bolt and his countrymen were chowing on McDonald's because the local delicacies didn't sit well with them. Not even a Bic Mac could slow down Bolt, who managed to shatter another world record in an equally dominating performance in the 200.
For most around the world, the Beijing Olympics was the first glimpse of Bolt's perfect mixture of grace, power and seemingly effortless speed. Jacques Rogge might not have liked the way Bolt boyishly celebrated his double-gold performance – "That's not the way we perceive being a champion," said the International Olympic Committee president – but he was about the only one. For when the 2008 Summer Olympics were over, Bolt emerged as the darling of the Beijing Games, which is saying something considering there was a guy named Phelps in China those same two weeks.
"In terms of the United States, yes, Michael Phelps was the star," Boldon said. "To the rest of the planet, the star of the Beijing Olympics was Usain Bolt."
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- Usain Bolt
- Ato Boldon