Usain Bolt could not lose – his 35,000 dancing, roaring, horn-blowing, adoring fans inside Kingston’s National Stadium would not have allowed it.
Not after the build-up. Not after a procession of dignitaries paid tribute to “the most famous Jamaican of all time”; not after a prayer was led in his honour; not after his every achievement was greeted with deafening cheers as they were relived on the big screens; not after he was introduced to the crowd from an open-top car before walking through a ceremonial brass band onto a red carpet that had been laid on the finishing straight for his feet only; and not after he had departed to the sound of Frank Sinatra’s My Way.
No, Bolt could not lose. And he did not. Jamaica’s favourite son said farewell in his last ever race on home soil with yet another victory on Saturday night.
In honesty, the task was not a difficult one. Some significant massaging of the Racers Grand Prix entry lists had left Bolt facing a host of faded Jamaican sprinting talent in the “Salute To A Legend” 100m race, while the fastest men competing in Kingston – his training partner Yohan Blake and South Africa’s Akani Simbine – were left to their own private battle in the international 100m.
In fact, the atmosphere inside the sold-out stadium had been euphoric all evening. Grandstand tickets had disappeared within a day of going on sale and Bolt had joked about being forced to turn his phone off to halt the incessant flow of people asking for freebies.
Every man, woman and child in Kingston wanted to be there to pay tribute to the eight-time Olympic champion – to say thank you and goodbye.
The first person to do so was a man of the cloth, who took centre stage before the action had even begun.
“Pray God, you have been truly good to Jamaica,” he said.
“You have blessed us with Dr The Honourable Usain St Leo Bolt – the embodiment of sportsmanship, who reminds us of the gumption and indomitable spirit of the Jamaican people.
“May the vibe in the stadium bring a world of justice and love, and make your kingdom on earth as it in heaven.”
The tone had been set and it was followed in suitable fashion. Seb Coe gave thanks to a man whose “contribution has been mammoth” before Jamaican prime minister Andrew Holness – wearing a Puma tracksuit – called on those present to honour “a great man, a great athlete and a great Jamaican”.
Mo Farah was happy to play bridesmaid to the night’s main event as he romped to victory in the 3,000m in 7min 41.20sec.
The four-time Olympic champion celebrated with Bolt’s ‘To Di World’ pose as he crossed the line, before lapping up the adoration of the Jamaican crowd on a lap of honour.
“This atmosphere is well up there,” he said. “It was just about having fun and giving something back. It wasn’t about running fast and I’ve really enjoyed it.
“Usain is a good friend of mine. He’s a legend and what he’s done for the sport – yes I’m going to be biased, but if you take a step back it’s incredible.”
Wayde van Niekerk blitzed a strong 200m field to triumph in 19.84sec – the fastest time in the world this year – while Christian Taylor jumped 17.20m to win the triple jump and Allyson Felix won the 400m in 50.52sec.
There were unexpected defeats for Olympic champions David Rudisha over 800m and Sally Pearson in the 100m hurdles.
Cynics might note that the international 100m had been won earlier in the night in a faster time than that managed by Bolt, but it mattered not a jot to anyone inside the stadium.
Asked about saying goodbye to his training partner and friend, Blake said: “I cry a little because we’ve been through so much.
“For his last year to be this year is sad. He leaves a size 13 shoe to fill and it’s hard to fit. I’ll try to squeeze my foot in it.”