The extent to which Bolt left the fastest field in history in the dust is mind-boggling. It's as if for the last three years, since he set those unbelievable world records in '09, he's just been playing with his competitors, letting them think they had a chance, when, really, they did not. As he showed in the finals of the 100 on Sunday evening.
So we'd all be marveling at his athletic feats no matter what. But if he were just another big, threatening, suspiciously well muscled black sprinter who glowered behind the blocks and was constantly proclaiming that he was the greatest of all time, we wouldn't like him.
Bolt simply doesn't take himself that seriously.
When the camera focuses on him before the start, he pretends to be an airplane about to take off. He pretends to be arranging his hair while looking at himself in the reflection of the camera lens. He pretends to be a boxer warming up. While the other sprinters try to look formidable, he plays at acting cute.
(It's a lot easier to get away with this act when you can blow the doors off all of the badasses.)
After his races, Bolt continues to run for another 100 meters or so. Then he does his famous archer pose. He has a number of silly dance moves he makes. And he likes to wade into the crowd and interact with the fans.
What makes Bolt so appealing is that he expresses joy so eloquently, and seems to be without animus. There are no chips on his shoulder, no grudge matches of any kind to settle. He simply delights in his ability to run fast and amuse the crowd.
When interviewed, Bolt's demeanor tends to be that of a schoolboy talking to a teacher.
At a recent press conference, when told of the plastic beer bottle that had been thrown in his direction before the start of the 100 meter dash, he said that was the first he'd heard of it and seemed amused. When he was told that a female Dutch judo champion had taken the offender down, slapped him hard on the back, and held him until police arrived, he simply shrugged and said, "I don't advocate violence, so I can't approve of that."
Had this been the typical champion American sprinter of the past three decades, one suspects the response might not have been quite so pacifist.