It was akin to a religious experience, a five-hour outpouring of love and noisy exaltation from 35,000 people to their nations greatest athlete
We thank you God, for you have truly been good to Jamaica. You have blessed us with doctor, the honourable Usain St Leo Bolt, the embodiment of sportsmanship, who reminds us of the gumption and indomitable spirt of the Jamaican people. May the vibe in the stadium bring a world of justice and love, and make your kingdom on Earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
Sporting events arent supposed to start with prayers from an ordained minister. But at Usain Bolts final race in Jamaica it somehow felt right. For this was an occasion akin to a religious experience, a five-hour outpouring of love and noisy exaltation from 35,000 people to the greatest athlete their country has ever known. Salute To A Legend, they called it. And salute they did.
As Bolt lined up at the start of his 100m race, he bathed in his home crowds affection for a last time. It was here at the National Stadium, 15 years ago, that he first made his name winning the world junior 200m title as a 15-year-old by beating athletes three years his senior. And he was desperate to get the last victory he craved.
The crowd were treated to all his greatest hits. Before the race, Bolt shadow boxed like a prizefighter as the stadium announcer rattled through his achievements. And, when the gun went off, he also made his customary terrible start, like a man with a backache climbing out of his favourite easy chair. But at 50 metres he was ahead and suddenly and emphatically the race was over.
His time of 10.03 sec was nothing special but, having missed more than two weeks training due to the death of his close friend Germaine Mason, it was good enough. Another Jamaican Jevaughn Minzie was second in 10.15.
As Bolt crossed the line he was mobbed by cheerleaders and photographers. The vuvuzelas blared. The fireworks blasted. The lap of honour was long and delirious. And then he climbed into the main stand to celebrate with his friends and family.
It was really hard for me, I have had a lot of time off, Bolt said. The two weeks I missed was kind of rough. But the people of Jamaica really came out for me, thank you for showing me your support.
Of course he was never going to lose. Not here in Kingston. And to make sure, the dice were loaded in his favour. Any athlete that could have conceivably beaten him was put into a tougher 100m earlier in the evening. That race was won by his compatriot and training partner Yohan Blake, the London 2012 silver medallist in 9.97, slowing down.
Afterwards Blake paid tribute to his friend, admitting: I cry a little because the fact that weve been through so much and we train together. For his last year to be this year is sad.
Could he fill his boots one day? A shake of the head. He leaves a size 13 shoe to fit and its hard to fit, he replied. I try to squeeze my foot in it.
Not everyone was quite as sentimental. The South African Akani Simbine, who finished second to Blake in 10.00, was asked whether he wanted to ruin Bolts retirement in London? Thats the plan, he said smiling.
Earlier Bolt was introduced to the crowd on an open-top car that slowly made its way around the velodrome that surrounded the track. Then there was a big bear hug from the IAAF president Sebastian Coe, who shovelled praised on the 100m and 200m world record holder.
Our words, at best, can only be a small, modest contribution to the eulogies and tributes that this great man standing behind me has receive this evening, Lord Coe told him. But if our words are modest, our thanks are mountainous.
Peter Phillips, the leader of Jamaicas opposition, the Peoples National Party, was even more effusive. You are now the greatest Jamaican of all time, he told him. Over 17 years he has set new limits for human capacity, and speed, and certainly your records of performance will endure through all history. He has set the world a lesson, a lesson that all Jamaicans will appreciate. That given the opportunity, we are simply the best.
Jamaicas prime minister, Andrew Holness, not wanting to be outdone, came dressed in a Puma tracksuit and, putting his hand on Bolts shoulder, called him a great man, a great athlete and a great Jamaican.
It surely wasnt planned, but as Holness spoke a full moon began to rise over the National Stadium.
Seven Olympic champions had come to Jamaica to pay tribute to Bolt and there were victories for most of them, including the triple jumper Christian Taylor, Allyson Felix in the 400m and Mo Farah in the 3,000m. Only David Rudisha disappointed, being pipped on the line to finish second.
Farah who looked comfortable in winning in a modest 7:41.20, just under half second ahead of the Australian Pat Tiernan, described the atmosphere as incredible: It was just about having fun and giving something back. It wasnt about running fast, he added. This atmosphere is well up there. Its better than the Diamond League, which is quite surprising. Ive really enjoyed it. The time went out of the window. The crowd wouldnt leave me alone. Its just an amazing atmosphere very positive.
He also paid tribute to Bolt. Hes a good friend of mine. Hes a legend and what hes done for the sport yes Im going to be biased but if you take a step back its incredible.
The performance of the night probably came from the South African Wayde Van Niekerk. His time of 19.84 sec in the 200m was not only the fastest of the year but a reminder, perhaps, of why Bolt intends to attempt only the 100m and 4x100m at the world championships in London in August. But that is a question for another day. This night, like so many others on the track in the past decade, belonged to Bolt.