As a dozen scantily clad Brazilian Samba dancers gyrated on to the stage, rocking peacock-style headdresses and glittery thongs, Usain Bolt was not about to be intimidated or upstaged.
Instead, the world 100 metres record holder hoisted his arms in the air and began moving to the Samba beats, delighting hundreds of journalists and photographers seeking a little sparkle to light up the Rio Games.
The contrast to every other press conference at the Rio Olympics was stark, showing once again that very few people on the planet transcend sport or command the world’s attention in the way Bolt does.
Yet the scale of media interest in the 29-year-old has soared to new heights at Rio. More than 530 media members registered to attend the Jamaica team press conference on Monday, according to sportswear company Puma, Jamaica’s team sponsor.
“Guys like Usain happen once every several generations. You cannot expect to hit the jackpot every four years,” Carlos Laje, the Latin America general manager for Puma, told Reuters.
Laje said Bolt had a knack of producing “once in a lifetime moments in history”, and drew comparisons with Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona, who delighted fans across the globe with his virtuoso performances at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.
“You’ve got to clap louder than that,” Bolt cheekily told journalists as he walked on to the stage. “That was weak.”
In the end, Jamaica’s team conference morphed into an event focussed on Bolt. Other athletes wheeled out to meet the press were mostly peppered with questions about what it is like to live, train and be inspired by the greatest ever sprinter.
“I don’t have a question, I just want to say ‘I love you,'” blurted out one Norwegian.
The journalist proceeded to serenade Bolt, rapping an ode to him in a Jamaican accent. Bolt demanded an encore so he could film it on his phone.
Moments later a Japanese TV personality, Teruhide Takahashi, thanked Bolt for an impromptu gift he had received ahead of the press conference: a pair of signed Puma shoes that Bolt wore once.
“I will treasure these forever,” Takahashi told Reuters, referring to a pair of trainers two sizes too big for him.
As journalists from across the world hung to Bolt’s every word and nearly 70 cameras filmed his beaming smile, the sprinter talked about his plans to retire and deprive the Olympics of its biggest star at the 2020 Tokyo Games.
Many hoped the Bolt show would go on. Even when the Jamaican said he would miss entertaining people at the Olympics, but not the media, they still laughed. They had been won over a long time ago.
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