VERY LATE last Saturday night in London, a silver Citroën minivan stopped outside the Olympic athletes' village and deposited Usain Bolt and a dozen runners and officials from team Jamaica one of the security checkpoints. Nearby spectators and Olympic Park volunteers moved toward Bolt like metal filings to a giant yellow-shirted magnet, clustering around him and trying to pose with him in smartphone pictures. "It's been so crazy," Bolt had said an hour earlier. "I'm actually worried about going to the airport."
For the second consecutive Olympics, the ancient—and marginalized—sport of track and field had stood tall for nine days on Bolt's broad shoulders. As in Beijing, Bolt won both the 100 and 200 meters and ran on Jamaica's 4 × 100-meter relay, which broke its own world record.
There were plenty of other strong performances: world records by David Rudisha of Kenya in the 800 meters and the U.S. women's 4 × 100-meter relay; Briton Mo Farah's distance-running double; three gold medals by U.S. sprinter Allyson Felix. There was youth served by Grenada's Kirani James, 19, who won the 400 meters, and by U.S. horizontal jumpers Christian Taylor, 22, and Will Claye, 21, who combined for three medals. And American Ashton Eaton won the decathlon and the mythical title of world's greatest athlete.
Yet it is Bolt who makes all of them relevant by giving track and field an outsized stage. "What he does for our sport is amazing," said Farah. "We're never going to see another one like him." That is the most important point. After winning the 100 meters on Aug. 5, Bolt sounded tired of the chase. He had overcome yet another back injury just to get to London. But on Saturday night he talked about 2016. "I'll see if I can go to Rio and do it again," he said. And his agent talked about the 2017 worlds in London.
The sport exhaled. Because as long as there is Bolt, there is track.