BEIJING - A head taller than his competitors, he unfolded from the blocks and loomed over his rivals even before he overtook them, which didn't take long.
Usain Bolt -- Lightning Bolt, he calls himself -- sped into the turn on the track at the Bird's Nest, the National Stadium in Beijing, and seconds after the Olympic 200 meters began there was no question who was going to win, only whether Bolt would merely settle for another gold medal or push himself to break one of the most daunting records in track.
As noise rose from a crowd of 91,000, the 6-5 Jamaican stretched his long legs almost comically toward the finish line. As he hit the straightaway he shot clear of the field, leaving the fastest runners in the world listing like buoys in a speedboat's wake.
He had set a world record in the 100 meters while celebrating the last 15 meters like the Jamaican clubber he is, high-stepping across the finish line. Michael Johnson's previously unassailable record of 19.32 in the 200 in the 1996 Olympics would fall only if Bolt would postpone the party a few precious seconds and feel a little pain in those elastic limbs.
He did. Bolt strained and leaned at the tape -- a competitor said it was the first time he had run a complete race all year -- looking immediately to the clock. It read 19.30. Bolt collapsed on the track, his hands over his face. His only unscripted gesture of the Olympics revealed the most.
"I've been saying for a long time that the 200 meters means a lot more to me than the 100," Bolt said. "I've been dreaming about the 200 since I was yea high. I'm real happy with myself, real proud right now.
"I wish I was in sandals right now, just taking the weekend and going to the Quarter."
Like his nickname, Bolt is swift and unpredictable. He prepared himself for one of the greatest sprints in history by rising at noon, having his masseuse bring him chicken nuggets, heading to the track and eating a couple more "nuggets" before his coach told him not to fill up on junk.
His skids well-greased, Bolt, hours before he turned 22, became the first sprinter to win the 100 and 200 in the same meet since Carl Lewis in 1984 and the first ever to set world records in both events in the same Olympics. His margin of victory -- .52 seconds over Martina Churandy, who was later disqualified for running out of his lane -- was the largest since the first Olympic 200 in 1900.
No one had held both world records at once since Jamaica's Donald Quarrie, an idol of Bolt's, in the '70s. "I just blew my mind," he said. "And blew the world's mind."
So Bolt became Bob Marley in spikes, or, as American Shawn Crawford, the silver medalist, put it, the Michael Phelps of track and field.
"He's very different," said Kim Collins of St. Kitts and Nevis, who finished sixth. "He's not what we sprinters should look like. He could possibly do the same thing in the 400.
"We never thought a man would run a 9.6 and he did it. We never thought a man would run 19.3 and he did it. How fast can a man go before he can go no faster?"
Collins wasn't the only sprinter waxing poetic about getting waxed. "He's so good because he's 6-5 and he runs like he's 5-9," said Great Britain's Christian Malcolm, who took fifth, then winked and said, "I hear he looked impressive."
"He's a phenom,'' said American Walter Dix, who took the bronze. "That's what we call something we can't explain."
Said Crawford: "The guy is bad. He came out and made this the best Olympics of my lifetime."
And in the history of Jamaica. One woman in the Jamaican entourage yelled, "We are the sprint factory of the world!" and Jamaican track official Warren Blake said that while Hurricane Fay has wreaked havoc on the island, Bolt's countrymen would still be running into the streets, "banging pot covers and setting off fireworks."
Johnson said before the race that he doubted Bolt could break his record on Wednesday. After the race, former U.S. hurdling star Renaldo Nehemiah predicted Bolt will lower his own world records for years to come.
"He's got to get to 26, 27, 28 before he reaches his proverbial prime," Nehemiah said. "He's a baby. As he gets stronger, it will get scary. We will all want to say we saw the evolution.
"He's doing things that no man of his stature could do, and it's a beautiful thing. And he's beautiful to watch. The stride, it is poetry in motion.
"He's blessed with a unique anatomy, a huge competitive heart, and he's having a good time."
Bolt posed before the start, pretending to slick down his close-cropped hair and pointed to the sky, and as a replay of the race flashed on a TV during his news conference, he raised his arms. "I was looking at myself," he said, "and saying, 'That guy's fast.'"
That guy grew up running on grass tracks in Jamaica, and has competed in the 100 for just a year. Immediately after the race, everyone he knows was getting grilled about how quickly he'll try out the 400, as if setting the world's two sexiest world records in five days hadn't earned him a weekend trip to "the Quarter."
"Anything is possible, if I put my mind to it," Bolt said after midnight in Beijing. "I'm looking forward to my birthday -- actually, I'm 22 now.
"So I'm looking forward to going to sleep with double world records."
His countrymen may not sleep at all.
Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. • email@example.com