BEIJING — First the fastest man in the water. Now the fastest man on Earth.
The Chinese are having themselves quite the Olympics.
Michael Phelps gave us something we’ll probably never see again. Usain Bolt followed with something we had to see to believe.
He ran like Secretariat on two legs, blew away the field like Tiger Woods playing in a club championship.
It looked easy because it was. His fellow sprinters looked befuddled because they were.
No one was ever supposed to be this fast. No one was ever supposed to be this good.
A few days earlier, Bolt clowned around on his way to a world record in the 100-meter dash, toying with the other runners as if asking them why they had even bothered.
For his encore, he kept running all the way to the finish line to smash a world record in the 200 that had stood the test of time.
He did it while Phelps was jetting off to London, his eight gold medals safely stored and his place in this Olympics assured. These were always Phelps’ Games, at least as far as NBC and its American audience were concerned, but Bolt reminded us that television doesn’t always dictate who is the star of the games.
The numbers can be debated, and they certainly will in the rural Jamaican parish that grows yams and sprinters. Two gold medals (with a possible third still to come in the 4×100 relay) against eight hardly seems a fair fight, but this was dominance as utter on land as it was in the pool.
Bolt did what no one thought possible, not only winning the races that define human speed but setting world records in both. He was so far ahead in both races that he could have turned around and run backward the last 30 meters and still won.
Then he did something Phelps always looked uncomfortable doing.
Not just a little wave to the crowd, quick hug to a teammate kind of celebration.
A real celebration.
Bolt kissed the track and draped himself in the Jamaican flag. He danced and preened, showed everyone his golden spikes and watched himself on the giant video screen at the end of the stadium.
He might still be dancing had they not needed to clear the track for Melaine Walker to add to Jamaica’s track treasures with a gold medal of her own in the 400 hurdles.
We watched last week as Phelps gave his mother flowers after all of his wins, a nice touch that NBC wasn’t shy about showing. Bolt gave his country — and a sport that was badly in need of a boost — an even bigger present with his startling run into history.
"He’s a bad mamma-jamma," said silver medalist Shawn Crawford. "The guy came out and made this the best Olympics of my lifetime."
Actually, what Bolt did was wrap a bow around these Games as almost certainly the best Olympics of anyone’s lifetime. What else could they be when a man in the water did such astonishing things the first week and a man on the track did equally astonishing things the second.
Phelps started it all by thrilling everyone in his relentless — and ultimately successful — bid to break a 36-year-old record held by Mark Spitz.
And Bolt? All he did was bring down Superman.
"He’s Superman 2," said Michael Johnson, who got his nickname after shocking the world with the 19.32 he ran in the 1996 Olympics.
No he’s not. He’s so good he deserves a nickname of his own.
"My name is Lightning Bolt, not Flash Gordon," Bolt said.
On this sultry night in the Bird’s Nest, the Lightning Bolt struck quickly, with Bolt coming out of the turn with a big lead on his way to a 19.30 that will stand until the next time he wants to beat it. While other runners pump their fists and grind down the track, the 6-foot-5-inch Bolt seems to glide above it as if he’s wearing a cape of his own.
He runs for fun, and he runs for glory. Then he runs for a microphone to tell the world all about it.
"I blew my mind," Bolt said. "I blew the world’s mind."
Yes he did, because the world didn’t see this coming. While Phelps was a known commodity after winning six golds in Athens, Bolt was untested on the biggest stage and had to talk his coach into letting him enter the 100 as well as run his favorite 200.
He ran both so fast that the whispers were beginning before Bolt even draped himself in the flag. That’s the way things are in track, where three of the last five Olympic 100 winners eventually tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs and where startling times are greeted with suspicion.
But Bolt has been tested four times in the past few weeks, three of them blood tests, and has come up clean. His coaches insist it’s raw talent and hard work that make him so fast, and we might just have to accept that he’s a freak of nature.
It’s not fair to question Bolt, and it wouldn’t be fair to question what makes Phelps go so fast.
Just sit back and appreciate the magical moments two great athletes gave us when it mattered the most.
Tim Dahlberg is a Las Vegas-based sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.