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Usain Bolt’s Olympic career spanned 12 years – or if you want to look at it differently, a bit under six minutes – and during it he changed the art of sprinting and the way that sports fans around the world came to appreciate it. At Rio 2016 he cemented his status as the greatest sprinter of all time adding a further three Olympic titles to take his overall medal haul to nine.
The Jamaican arrived in Brazil as the biggest ticket of the athletics programme, and he fully lived up to his billing. Just as he had done in London four years earlier, he completed a sprinting triple, with successful defences of his men’s 100m, 200m and 4x100m titles.
On 15 August 2016, Bolt became the first athlete to win three Olympic 100m titles as he pipped the USA’s Justin Gatlin to gold. The 29-year-old ran 9.81 seconds to replicate his success at Beijing 2008 and London 2012. "Somebody said I can become immortal," he said after the final. “Two more medals to go and I can sign off. Immortal.”
He took a further step towards immortality four days later in the 200m final as he ran 19.78 seconds to come home ahead of Canada's Andre de Grasse and France's Christophe Lemaitre. And he brought the curtain down on his Olympic career by claiming his ninth gold as he teamed up with Asafa Powell, Yohan Blake and Nickel Ashmeade to help Jamaica win the 4x100m relay final in a time of 37.27 seconds.
Every time the larger-than-life Jamaican emerged into the stadium, the atmosphere became more charged with anticipation, as the spectators waited to see history being made.
While other sprinters often grimace in intense concentration on the blocks, Bolt always smiled. He was never first out of the blocks, and hardly ever first at the halfway point, and yet there was rarely a sense that he would not cross the line ahead of all of his rivals.
Bolt, more than any other athlete had a strong sense of his own iconic status. Faster than any other athlete to the finish line, he was invariably one of the slowest to leave the arena after his races, as he paused for endless selfies, and replicated his now legendary pose for every photographer.
On winning his final gold in the men’s relay, he stated: "There you go, I'm the greatest.” Nobody could argue with that.
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