RIO DE JANEIRO -- When Usain Bolt stepped out onto the track for the 100 meter final on Sunday night, fans started to chant, "Bolt! Bolt! Bolt!" One held up a carved figurine of him. After the race, those near Bolt on the edge of the track begged for selfies. Photographers waited eagerly for him to perform his famed lightning bolt salute.
And why wouldn't there be this sort of reaction? Bolt is one of the biggest names in the entire world of sports. He is the world-record holder in the 100, and his victory on Sunday gave him three gold medals in the event, something no previous Olympian had ever done. He has won seven golds total and could win another two in the 200 and the 4x100 relay, which would be as many as Carl Lewis won.
Bolt turns 30 years old in a week, however. His winning time of 9.81 was considerably shy of his world record 9.58. He said the short turnaround between the semifinal and the final slowed him down, which is something that happens as you age. He will be nearly 34 by the time the Tokyo Olympics roll around. And while 34-year-old Justin Gatlin became the oldest medalist in the 100 on Sunday night, it seems unlikely that Bolt will do that in 2020.
You never know with Bolt, but as Canadian bronze medalist Andre De Grasse said, "This is probably going to be the last Olympics for Usain and Gatlin."
Bolt has been an extraordinary athlete to watch, with his great speed, height, long strides and flamboyant personality. He has essentially been the Michael Phelps of track since the 2008 Olympics, only much more entertaining.
After he finishes these Olympics, it is time to begin looking to the future -- and who might be the next Bolt.
Well, not the next Bolt, but the next great sprinters to follow.
"It will be hard to be exactly like me, but you just need to work hard," Bolt said. "It's all about determination and what you want. For me, I worked for the work. You just push yourself in everything you do."
De Grasse is one of those who could push himself to the top. He is 21 years old. He used to be a basketball player. But his high school dropped basketball during his senior year, and he shifted to track, where he quickly rose as a sprinter. He won the 100 and 200 at last summer's Pan Am Games, and on Sunday, he became the first Canadian to medal in an Olympic sprint since Donovan Bailey in 1996.
De Grasse and Bolt hugged after the race, and De Grasse said he would like to race against Bolt as many times as possible before the legend retires. He also said he would like to one day be a gold medalist, as well.
"I'm always ready for the challenge," De Grasse said. "This is my first Olympics, and I'm happy I even got in the podium. I've had an up-and-down season. I've battled a couple injuries. But it's a great feeling right now."
Then there is U.S. sprinter Trayvon Bromell, who recently turned 21 and is young enough that he says he doesn't even recall Gatlin winning gold at the 2004 Olympics. He did not have a great race on Sunday, finishing last with a time of 10.06, but he was dealing with an Achilles injury that was so sore he said he could barely walk earlier in the day and might require surgery when he returns home. Still, he has one of the fastest times in the world this year. He also has overcome some incredibly difficult hardships, including living in poverty and several knee injuries.
"If you know where I came from, you would understand why I'm so hungry to get where I am now," Bromell said. "I came from the bottom. Most people can't say that. I wear my emotions on my sleeve. All my tattoos show what I've been through, the bad neighborhood and the life that I lived. I fought through my neighborhood to get where I'm at.
"That's where my mindset comes from. I'm hungry to be great. I've got to be an example for these little kids. I had to get out of the street. I'm not here to be a big-time champion. I'm here to set an example."
Just as Bolt has done. Bolt has inspired kids worldwide to take up sprinting and try to do what he has done. No one likely will match him, but you never know in sports. After all, at one point, Bolt was just a young kid with nothing but promise and determination.