LONDON - Usain Bolt rocked up in London and got the World Championships party started in a converted old brewery on Tuesday night. By the time he turned in, after an hour of poses, promises and a veiled put-down for Andre De Grasse, there was no escaping the sense that the music really is about to stop.
It is close now, just three more days until Saturday’s 100metres final and a further seven until the relay that will end the greatest athletics career of all. A maximum of five races in all, gone in 50 seconds, probably less.
Blink and you’ll miss it, just as athletics will desperately miss him when this long farewell tour is done, for in plain truth his absurd talents and charisma have saved his sport.
Take last night, as an example. His final press conference at a central London events centre drew somewhere in the region of 500 media, so many that the original plan to stage it in a room at the Emirates had to be abandoned. The sheer circus of it all was summed up by PA announcements that ‘the show is about to begin’ ahead of his arrival on stage.
The intriguing question, quite aside from what athletics will do next, is what kind of finale Bolt can deliver to that show. There is nothing new in the narrative of Bolt turning up at a major championships in dodgy form and then winning all the marbles, but ageing is non-negotiable and this season has made the eight-time Olympic champion look more like a man who turns 31 this month.
Two of his three races were desperately underwhelming, his bad back necessitated a trip to see his doctor in Germany and the motorcycle death of Germaine Mason, the British high jumper, did untold damage to Bolt, who was partying with Mason and then travelling with him on the night he crashed. He was first on the scene and later helped dig the grave.
To hear Bolt discuss the tragedy is to understand how he could yet go north or south in his 100m battle royale with De Grasse, Christian Coleman and Justin Gatlin.
"For me it was a rough time," Bolt said. "I have never had someone who passed away so close to me. It set me back a little bit and I didn’t train for three weeks maybe.
"My coach gave me my space, he gave me my time to get over it. But at some point the close net of people I was with said, 'Listen to us Usain, I know it is hard but you need to get back training because Germaine would have wanted it. He was looking forward to coming to your last race and seeing you compete and finishing off your legacy'.
"So that really helped me get going again. It was hard but it became a positive and now I really want to do it for him and his family and all the friends that supported me in the hard times."
A motivated Bolt is a thrilling prospect but it is also impossible to ignore claims from De Grasse’s coach a fortnight ago that the Jamaican had his Canadian rival uninvited from a Diamond League race in Monaco.
Bolt has sneered at any suggestion he is running scared and appeared just as pointed in refusing to name who he feels will be the next sprint king, which felt like a dig at De Grasse, with whom he had previously been friendly.
That relationship has deteriorated since De Grasse made declarations that he wanted to beat Bolt before his retirement.
Bolt, when asked to pick his successor, said: "I am not going down that road. The last guy who was going to be great disrespected me."
When pushed about his relationship with De Grasse, he said: "I don’t know. I see him around. I say Hi. That is it I guess. I don’t know how to describe that. I don’t have his phone number or anything. We just say Hi."
The rivalry promises to be the most spicy of the championships. De Grasse is fast, having run 9.69sec this season with an illegal tailwind, but Bolt at his peak would see that off. The issue is how fast he can run in a season where his best is 9.95sec and he had fallen outside 10sec in his other two races.
Is he still the fastest, he was asked. "Yeah, without a doubt," he said. "Come on, you guys know if I show up at a championships, if I am here, you know I am fully confident and ready to go.
"For some reason I am the underdog again. That’s what I keep reading and that’s what my team keeps telling me. Looks like I’m going to have to prove myself once more. I am ready."
Asked if his retirement plans would change in defeat, he added: "We won’t have that problem, don’t worry about it."
Then a laugh. Then a few more as he went through his routine of recollections and predictions for a future spent playing football. Or maybe just betting on sprint finals, he said.
With that, he was showered with ticker tape, called a ‘dope-a** m*****f*****’ in an apparent compliment via video message by Samuel L Jackson and unveiled his new purple and gold spikes for this finale.
"Because I am the golden boy," he said. That he is. The wonderful mystery is whether anyone can take away the shine in the next fortnight.