Jamaica’s newest “sports superhero” Usain Bolt was given a grand welcome home on Monday afternoon (8) as thousands of flag waving fans braved heavy rains to line the road from the Norman Manley International airport to an upscale Kingston hotel, a distance of approximately eight kilometres to get a view of the triple Olympic Gold medallist.
A host of the country’s top officials including Prime Minister Bruce Golding, Sport Minister Olivia Grange and the leader of the opposition Portia Simpson Miller jostled for space amongst hundreds of airport workers who left their posts to get a glimpse of the 22-year-old sprinter and welcome him home.
Bolt’s parents, Wellesley and Jennifer as well as other close family members were also present at the hotel reception where a top local artiste dedicated one of his hits to the athlete.
Bolt who celebrated his 22nd birthday during the Olympic Games, elevated himself to near legendary status after he won three gold medals, all in new World records, the 100m, 200m and the 4x100m relays in the recent Olympic Games that were held in Beijing China.
Bolt won the 100m in 9.69 seconds beating his own 9.72 seconds set in May in New York; lowered American Michael Johnson’s 200m World record to 19.30 second while the relay team on which he ran the third leg clocked 37.10 seconds.
Business along the route of the motorcade from the airport came to a stand still as thousands left offices, banks and other business to get a glimpse of Bolt despite heavy rains from the outer bands of Hurricane Ike which forced him to close the top of the shining new BMW convertible that was provided by one of his local sponsors, a cell phone company, after being met on the airport tarmac.
Bolt who arrived from London just after 2:00pm, dressed in black jeans and dark T-shirt was whisked away from the airport, bypassing customs and immigration as befitting ambassadors and top dignitaries.
The trip from the airport to New Kingston, normally about 30 minutes took over an hour pushing back the 3:00pm (Central Time) from 3:00pm to nearly 5:30pm as lack of planning also marred the proceedings but that’s the unpredictability of a phenomenon such as Bolt .
Bolt’s unprecedented three gold medals, all in World record times, prompted head of the Jamaica Olympic Association Michael fennel to describe the 22-year-old as “a super hero”.
“I am feeling good right now,” said Bolt. “I am glad for this turn out and I am just happy to be home now.”
He was at a loss for words at the press conference but said while he expected the welcome home would be “great” he was surprised by the reception and said the other members of the team, some of which are still in Europe competing were also looking forward to coming home.
He also sent a message to his rivals that he was not sitting back and enjoying the accolades but promised he “would be working harder for next year to stay on top as it is going to be hard but I am looking forward to the challenge and to keep the country proud.”
Bolt who was heavily criticised by sections of the US press and by IOC president Jacques Rogge for his post race antics said he was not bothered, “I go out there to perform for the people who were there to see me and they love it so it does not matter to me what others say.”
According to Golding Monday’s function was not the official welcome home for the Olympians, as there are plans for a four-day celebration for the entire team, starting on October 3rd will be announced soon.
Paul Reid for the IAAF