“Thunder is good. Thunder is impressive. But it is lightning that does the work."
And Usain Bolt was all lightning Thursday night in Rio de Janeiro, winning the 200 meters for a record third time while leaving the rest of the field looking like a backup chorus line.
As has been typical of the greatest sprinter in track history, Bolt again presented his unique mix of thunder and lightning.
He entered the track giving a thumbs-up and pointing at familiar faces, like a politician making a campaign stop. While setting up his starting blocks and staying loose, he played a little air guitar and mouthed the word “three,” making it clear that the eighth gold medal of his Olympic career was a lock.
That’s the thunderous side of Bolt, the showboating and promenading Jamaican who has fun every step of the way, and who’s able to fill a stadium with his show of ego while not really hurting anyone’s feelings.
For me, there’s also a thunder-lightning comparison between his two individual events, the 100 and the 200.
The 100 is track’s greatest show, the event where there’s the most bluster, and the race that decides who’s the world’s fastest man.
But the 200 is where Bolt completes the job of proving he’s the world’s best sprinter, the complete package.
Don’t let Bolt’s dominance at a third straight Olympics lull you into thinking the two victories automatically go hand in hand. In the last 15 Summer Olympics, only two other winners of the men’s 100 went on to claim the 200.
One was Carl Lewis, who accomplished it with unquestioned authority in 1984. But when Lewis tried to repeat the sweep in 1988, he was beaten in the 200 by training partner Joe DeLoach.
The other relatively recent 100-200 doubler was the Soviet Union’s Valery Borzov in 1972. He gets a mini-asterisk to go with his two golds, because confusion about start times caused two top Americans to miss qualifying heats in the 100.
Then there’s Bolt, the first Olympian to score a triple-double in the 100 and 200.
If I could watch only one of those races it would be the 200, because we get to see twice as much of Bolt. How can anyone not love that?
But because all the hoopla and trash-talking surrounding the 100 leaves the 200 seeming almost like an afterthought, “The Deuce” doesn’t get its full due.
It had plenty of history even before Bolt made it the most-watched event on the planet Thursday.
Much of that history belongs to America, which in five consecutive Olympics from 1932 to 1956 won 13 of a possible 15 medals in the 200.
The last of the USA’s six medals sweeps in the 200 came in 2004, when an 18-year-old Bolt was eliminated in the first round of qualifying. The Yanks haven’t been close since.
The 200 has had some light moments, like when former world-record holder Pietro Mennea of Italy stripped down to his jockstrap while changing shorts during the 1972 preliminaries.
It has witnessed a stirring show of the Olympic spirit, like when an injured Hasely Crawford of Trinidad and Tobago cramped up but pressed on to the finish line, crossing in agony almost a minute behind everyone else.
And the 200 also gave the Olympics its most famous medals ceremony photo ever, when Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos bowed their heads and raised gloved fists in 1968 as a protest of how blacks were being treated in the U.S.
In effect, Bolt won the 200 twice on Thursday. When he finished the first 100 meters and hit the straightaway, the race was already over. That’s how thoroughly Bolt blistered the curve, putting an insurmountable gap between himself and the field.
Then he put on another surge down the homestretch, a finishing blast no one else could come close to matching.
The time of 19.78 wasn’t spectacular, at least not by Bolt’s standards, and was the slowest of his three Olympic victories in the event. But it also came on a wet track that absorbed heavy rains about a half-hour before the race.
So Bolt won’t complete the mission of becoming the first man to break 19 seconds in the 200 while in Rio.
“It has been a dream of mine,” Bolt said upon arriving in Rio, per Oliver Brown and Luke Brown of the Telegraph. “I would dearly love to do it.”
But he does still have one task left to complete: Friday night’s 4x100 relay, where a ninth career gold will allow him to tie Lewis and legendary Finnish distance runner Paavo Nurmi for most track golds.
Like the 200, that’s an event the USA once owned.
And like the 200, you can bet Bolt will unleash plenty more thunder and lightning.
Tom Weir covered 15 Olympics, including seven Summer games, as a columnist for USA Today. Information from David Wallechinsky’s “The Complete Book of the Olympics” was used in this column.