RIO DE JANEIRO – I can tell my kids one day that, yes, I was there when Usain Bolt snapchatted a Scandinavian journalist rapping him a love song.
“I don’t really have a question,” a man claiming to be a Norwegian media member said at a press conference Monday evening. “I just want to say, I really love you man.”
And then he broke into song:
Usain Bolt, you’re my favorite guy.
I’m loving your moves, and your feet and your style
I hope that you win, I hope that you got the golden ring
I hope you get to go and not get followed by a Segway.
Nothing quite brings the world together like a Bolt “press conference.”
In 2012, a Chilean women elicited laughter at Bolt’s pre-Olympic conference by telling him he was gay (the happy version, it was clarified after the question) and then asking when he would come to Chile to spin records as a DJ. Bolt was also asked in London if he had been given any of the free condoms at the athletes’ village.
In 2014 at the Commonwealth Games, an Australian journalist used his opportunity to ask Bolt a question to request a selfie. Bolt said he would oblige later.
Two weeks ago, I received an email invitation to a Jamaica Olympic Association-Puma event scheduled for Aug. 8 at a place called Cidade das Artes in southwest Rio.
Bolt’s name was not in the text, but it was implied. He is Puma’s worldwide ambassador.
Naturally, I googled the venue. The second sentence in its Wikipedia entry says the building was inaugurated in January 2013 with the musical, “Rock in Rio.” Seemed a perfect place to introduce Bolt for his fourth and final Games.
I arrived at the venue Monday evening and walked past an unfilled kiddie pool, a mix of tourists and even more adults in Team Jamaica outfits.
Even so, you wouldn’t have guessed Bolt was set to hold court.
There were no front-and-center signs outside referencing Bolt, which must have been by design. I found a table lined with green-and-gold clad officials, a check-in as I suspected, and made my way up to what was billed as “the largest theater in South America.”
Inside, there were about 20 rows of red seats. And three tiers of balconies. I could not see the stage from the back doors, however, as dozens of camera crews had already set up.
They were accompanied by raised bleacher seating that resembled a large summer camp bonfire, enough for a few hundred more media members.
The 2000 Olympic triple jump champion Jonathan Edwards emceed the hour-long show. And a show it was.
A video montage of Jamaica’s Olympic legends preceded the question-and-answer sessions. Jamaica has won 67 medals, it pointed out – 66 in track and field, 1 in cycling.
Bolt was saved as the last athlete to talk.
First, other track and field team members came up in waves before him, but with every question asked, we all knew that might mean one fewer question for Bolt if they wanted to keep on schedule.
Finally, Bolt entered to applause at 6:30 p.m. This kind of welcome is generally frowned upon at press conferences, but this was no ordinary press conference.
“First of all, you’ve got to clap louder than that,” Bolt said as he walked across the stage in a gold shirt and backwards cap toward Edwards. “That was weak.”
And so Bolt went on answering questions.
He lamented having to buy a TV for his room here, that fellow sprinter Asafa Powell takes his shirt off to much and said, as he does in every large media gathering, that he wants to run sub-19 seconds for the 200m one day.
There was one bit of actual news amid the splendid celebration.
Bolt, coming off a hamstring injury, said his coach called his only Olympic tune-up race two weeks ago “one of the worst races” he’s ever run. Bolt seemed unconcerned.
Bolt does enter these Olympics as the fourth-fastest man in the 100m this year, and the fifth-fastest in the 200m. But nobody has beaten him to the finish line of an Olympic or world championships final since 2007.
The latter fact carries more weight than the former stat as Bolt readies for his 100m opening round Saturday. The 100m semifinals and final are Sunday.