When I got into my car to head home from work last Tuesday night, I immediately glanced at the clock. It read 9:17 p.m.
Usain Bolt is running at 9:30, I thought to myself. You’d better get moving.
For the past three Summer Olympics, Bolt has been appointment viewing. Beginning with his electric, record-shattering performance in Beijing eight years ago, the Jamaican sprinter has captivated the world with his combination of speed — no human has ever run faster — and showmanship.
He was the main event in 2008, and again in 2012. When he came to Rio this month, we knew he probably wasn’t going to top the ridiculous times he posted in his prime, but we watched anyway. With this being Bolt’s last Olympics, it was our last chance to see a performer the likes of which the world has never seen — and may never see again.
Bolt, however, wasn’t the only once-in-a-lifetime talent in Rio. This past fortnight gave us the chance to witness four superstars who are almost inarguably the best to ever do what it is they do.
In gymnastics, Simone Biles wasn’t the first to claim four golds in a single Olympics, but she might have had the most dominating performance of anyone in the sport’s history.
For some perspective, Biles’ margin of victory in the women’s all-around was greater than the combined winning margins for the previous nine gold medalists from 1980 through 2012. If we’re lucky, she’ll be back to do it again in Tokyo in 2020.
Ditto for Katie Ledecky, who made mincemeat of her competition in the pool. Ledecky won four golds, including three as an individual despite the fact that the 1,500-meter freestyle, perhaps her best event, isn’t contested at the Olympics.
If it is added four years from now, the competition likely won’t stand a chance. At 19, Ledecky is already the greatest female freestyler ever — and were she to find a Delorean, her current world-record time in the 800 freestyle would also beat any man who ever swam that distance before 1976.
Heck, it would have been good enough to break the men’s 4×200 relay world record in 1960.
Ledecky wasn’t the only GOAT (greatest of all time) in the sometimes-greenish water in Rio, however. No discussion of all-time greats would be complete without mentioning Michael Phelps, who won five more golds to bring his total haul to 23, easily the most of any Olympic athlete ever. He’s not just the best swimmer of all time. He might be the greatest American athlete of all time, period.
I’ve loved watching the Olympics ever since I was a wee lad. I still remember the Los Angeles games of 1984 about as vividly as I can remember anything from my youth — I would watch track or swimming races on TV and then run out to the backyard and pretend to win those same races.
This year was the first time my children were able to watch the Olympics and have a clue about what they were seeing. I’m looking forward to seeing them develop their own quadrennial love affair as they continue growing up. But what they saw this summer might go unmatched.
It’s not often that we get to witness any one athlete excelling at a level that no one else has ever reached. That we got to watch four of them performing in the same city over a two-week period was pretty special.
I hope you took the time to soak up every magical moment that Bolt, Biles, Ledecky and Phelps gave us, sports fans. We may never again be so lucky.