LONDON He is the Muhammad Ali of his sport full of gesticulations, prognostications and downright silliness.
Besides being the fastest man to ever run, Usain Bolt is just plain fun.
Bolt won the 100-meter race in an Olympic-record 9.63 seconds Sunday night, gobbling up the track with his 10-foot strides in what turned out to be the fastest 100-meter field in history.
The Jamaican sprinter then turned those 10 seconds into 20 minutes of playful celebration. His victory lap included his signature point-to-the-sky move, as well as camera-mugging, neck-hugging and even a somersault.
There were 80,000 people in Olympic Stadium, and they ate it up. They shouted until they were hoarse. They clapped until their hands hurt.
They were the lucky ones. A couple of million had applied for tickets for this night.
Bolt, 25, is trying to become the first man to win the 100 and 200 at consecutive Olympics. But those are just numbers.
What Bolt wants and what he is rapidly achieving is more ethereal. He wants to become a legend, and hes not afraid to say it.
Thats a first step for me, Bolt said after the race. I think I have to defend my 200-meter title also, and then I will consider myself a legend.
I have always wished that I saw Ali fight live and in his prime. But Bolt is the closest thing Ive ever seen to the old tapes of Ali. Bolt lives for an audience. He thrives on attention.
Being a crowd-pleaser is very important to me, Bolt said later.
Indeed, in a post-race, 20-minute news conference, Bolt mentioned several times his regret that, in his opinion, fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake (who won the silver medal in 9.75 seconds) had performed a better pre-race routine for the crowd than Bolt did.
Blake had done a routine highlighting his nickname The Beast.
Bolt had done about 10 things, including a DJ routine with an air turntable, making two of his fingers run toward the camera, a rub of his ear in tribute to an amateur barber who had accidentally clipped him, and on and on.
It was funny but it was all over the place, and Bolt knew it later. He needs to hone his choreography like he honed his focus for the race.
In that news conference, though, Bolt didnt mention any regret about not eclipsing his own world record of 9.58 seconds. That, to him, was secondary.
Hes a showman, said American Justin Gatlin, who won the bronze medal in 9.79 seconds. People will come out and pay their money to watch him race. Is it arrogant? Is it cocky? I dont think so. People want a good show they pay a lot of money to see that.
Bolts win a stepping stone to a legacy
Bolt had been perceived to be a bit vulnerable in this race. Blake, his training partner, beat him in both the 100 and 200 at Jamaicas Olympic trials. Bolt, though, said that had motivated him.
At the trials, when Yohan beat me twice, he woke me up, Bolt said. He opened my eyes. He pretty much came and knocked on my door and said, Usain, wake up! Its an Olympic year. Im ready? Are you?
Yes, he was ready. Was he ever.
The race unfurled like a red-and-yellow flag, as three Americans in red and three Jamaicans in yellow alternated in the six middle lanes.
Bolt was pushed this time, unlike in Beijing in 2008 when he was able to thump his chest as he crossed the finish line.
But with 50 meters to go, Bolt was even with the pack. And at that point, he said he knew he had the race won.
Bolts second 50 meters is the best in track history. Bolt at full speed is one of those things you never forget seeing in person.
Although he rarely stops preening on the track, Bolt comes off as polite in interviews. He said he hoped that children in Jamaica would not all try to become a world-class sprinter, but that they would try to be great at something a cricketer, a doctor, a nurse, he said.
The 100 meters is tracks most famous race and has been dotted with Olympic stars of enduring celebrity. Great Britains Harold Abrahams won the 100 in 1924, as was chronicled in the movie Chariots of Fire.
In 1936, Jesse Owens won it as one of his four gold medals in one of the greatest Olympic performances ever, much to the displeasure of Nazi officials who had hoped to use those Games as a propaganda piece for supposed Aryan superiority.
In 1964, Bob Hayes won the 100 meters and later went on to a fine NFL career as a wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys. Carl Lewis won it in 1984 and was later declared the winner again in 1988 after original winner Ben Johnson was disqualified due to a steroid scandal.
Then it was Bolt in 2008, only 21 at the time but already with a knack for embracing both the spotlight and the moment.
Bolt is getting a bit older and wiser. Last time in China, Bolt only ate McDonalds Chicken McNuggets before the 100. This time his pre-race meals included plantains, rice and chicken.
But he still has that unerring knack for the great moment.
Like Ali, even now, Bolt dominates every room he enters. He is hard to look away from, because you just cant wait to see what he will do next.