Rio Olympics 2016: Why is Usain Bolt so popular?

Usain Bolt
No man has won the 100m and 200m in consecutive Olympics. Bolt has now done it in three successive Games

In the past decade he has been the biggest star in world sport and now Usain Bolt is on the brink of yet more history.

Victory in the 200m final at Rio 2016 means the 29-year-old needs another win in the 4x100m relay alongside his Jamaican team-mates at 02:35 BST on Saturday to complete an unprecedented 'treble treble' of Olympic sprint golds in the 100m, 200m and relay.

He's done it all while athletics has been struggling to maintain its popularity, a succession of doping scandals draining away people's belief in what they're watching.

It's not too much of a stretch to describe Bolt as his sport's saviour. His remarkable feats can, briefly, bring the world to a halt, while he possesses a magnetic appeal that transcends track and field and crosses generations.

Why is he so popular? And, as BBC TV's Olympic coverage asked in the aftermath of his latest gold, what on earth are we going to do without him?

Selfies and smiles

Usain Bolt taking selfies after the Rio 2016 100m final
He's in there somewhere... has any athlete posed for more selfies?

Unaffected, laid-back but always the showman, Bolt makes the superhuman seem routine and his easy charm is hugely endearing.

Of course, people are also awed by watching staggering sporting feats - like setting world records in the 100m of 9.58 seconds and the 200m of 19.19 seconds - but it's the way he does it that makes Bolt different.

Not for him the muscular machismo of many sprinters. Swaying, dancing and posing before and after races, he looks like he's having a great time and the sense of fun is infectious.

While the time we see him in action is oh so brief, he appears to have all the time in the world for fans and journalists once his business is complete.

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Bolt wins third 200m gold

His laps of honour feature a seemingly endless stream of selfies for thrilled supporters, with Bolt providing a smile for everyone. He waits patiently when some fans struggle to get the settings on their phone right and shows them how it's done when technology defeats them.

Once he's amiably ambled his way round the track, it's straight into a succession of interviews,.

BBC Radio 5 live's Sonia McLaughlin was number 49 in the line of media waiting to speak with Bolt after his 200m victory and he fielded similar questions with the same excitement - more than an hour after his race had finished - as he had when he spoke to the BBC's trackside television reporter Phil Jones in the immediate aftermath of his race.

His appeal overwhelms some journalists who lose all semblance of professionalism and demand their own selfies. It's all in a day's work for Bolt.

With his 30th birthday on Sunday and retirement due after next year's World Athletics Championships in London, let's continue to enjoy him while we still can.

Fans in the Olympic Stadium on what they love about Bolt

Jarno Metsäranta from Finland on Usain Bolt
Jarno Metsaranta, from Finland: "We are here because we won a prize with a betting company, and the main prize is seeing Usain Bolt. I've never seen him before so It's very exciting to see him live. It's so different than seeing him on TV. Every time he wins something the Finnish media report on it, but I think it's like that in every country. I think people love him because of what he does on the track and his personality."
Shaun Johnson
Shaun Johnson, from Jamaica: "He revolutionised the sport and put us on the map. He's the next best thing since Bob Marley. He's fun and humble. He entertains and hangs out with the locals. We enjoy what he's done to the country, and he's been the same Usain Bolt since high school. It's been an amazing journey. After he won the 100m on Tuesday it was like a holiday. They're going to build a statue once he retires for sure. He'll be a legend."
Mia Richardson
Mia Richardson, from Hexham: "He's the athlete that got me interested in athletics. I was 10 when he did what he did in Beijing - the ease with which he won. He needs to be replaced. There are people like David Rudisha, but there needs to be someone breaking records and have a personality too. I follow him on Snapchat and he's hilarious."
Gustavo from Portugal on Usain Bolt
Gustavo, from Portugal: "He's a phenomenon. He's an incredible guy. It's my unique chance to see the guy. He's the fastest man in world and it's something I'll tell my children and grandchildren. Today is history."

Reaction to Bolt's eighth Olympic gold

The man himself said: "What else can I do to prove I am the greatest? I'm trying to be one of the greatest, to be among Ali and Pele. I have made the sport exciting, I have made people want to see the sport. I have put the sport on a different level."

Fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake, 2012 Olympic 100m silver medallist and 2011 world champion: "Congrats to my friend and training partner Usain Bolt. Well done big man. A true inspiration and a living legend!"

Tennis player Genie Bouchard to fellow Canadian and 200m silver medallist Andre de Grasse: "Silver after Bolt is really like gold am I right?"

Wayde van Niekerk, 400m gold medallist and world record holder: "Congratulations Usain Bolt, King of sprints. True inspiration and motivation."

Katie Taylor's tweet on Usain Bolt
Irish boxer and London 2012 gold medallist Katie Taylor is a confirmed Bolt fan
Usain Bolt meme
Neither human nor animated character can keep up with Bolt
The Ringer tweet about Usain Bolt
Bolt's overwhelming superiority was used as an excuse to poke fun at US swimmer Ryan Lochte after he and three team-mates falsely claimed they had been robbed at gunpoint in Rio

Breaking records, having a ball

Usain Bolt world record
Usain Bolt broke the 100m world record he set at Beijing 2008 with a new mark at the 2009 World Championships
Usain Bolt
He then set an incredible new 200m mark at the same Berlin championships - the time was rounded down to 19.19 seconds
Usain Bolt world record 4x100m
He was also part of the Jamaican quartet that set the 4x100m world record at London 2012
Mo Farah and Usain Bolt
Mo Farah and Bolt lit up London's Olympic Stadium in 2012 by replicating each other's respective victory poses
Usain Bolt selfie
The Rio 2016 heptathlon medallists, including Britain's Jessica Ennis-Hill, took their chance to get a selfie with Bolt after his 100m victory
Usain Bolt
Bolt invited a group of children from underprivileged communities near Jamaica's training base in Rio to meet him shortly before the Olympics began
Usain Bolt cheetah
He adopted a baby cheetah named Lightning Bolt in 2009
Usain Bolt
It's difficult to imagine athletics without its greatest showman

What could he do next?

Usain Bolt cricket
Bolt enjoys cricket and displays a textbook forward defensive stroke here

There's no doubting his athletic ability - Bolt is built for running.

But such a perfect sportsman could surely adapt to other disciplines? We put his details into our Olympic body match tool to find out what else he's equipped for.

Here are the results. at 1.95m tall and weighing 94kg, Bolt is similar to:

1. Russian rower Anton Zarutskiy

2. Irish hockey player David Harte

3. Argentine volleyball player Cristian Poglajen

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