BEIJING Usain Bolt loves the cameras, the cameras love Usain Bolt, and when they connected during his third victory lap of these Olympics, he smiled that infectious smile and raised three fingers.
As in: 3-for-3-for-3.
As in: three events, three gold medals, three world records.
Bolt capped his spectacular Summer Games by tearing through his portion of the 400-meter relay Friday night, setting up Jamaica's victory in 37.10 seconds to break a 16-year-old world record.
It was the perfect way to end a weeklong coming-out party that began with a world record of 9.69 in the 100 meters Saturday, followed by a world record of 19.30 in the 200 meters Wednesday.
"The greatest Olympics ever," Bolt called it.
Who could argue?
Bolt joins quite a list: The only other men to win gold medals in the 100, 200 and the sprint relay at one Olympics were Carl Lewis in 1984, Bobby Morrow in 1956 and Jesse Owens in 1936. None of those greats set world records in either the 100 or 200, though, much less both.
"People can only dream of doing what he's done. He's basically cemented himself as a legend of track and field," said Bolt's relay teammate Michael Frater. "I don't think any performance can top what he's done here."
If not for Michael Phelps, the Beijing Games would go down in history as the Bolt Games.
Impossible as it might have seemed after Phelps collected his Olympics-record eight golds in the pool, the 6-foot-5 sprinter managed to share top billing thanks to speed that stuns and charisma that gets people talking.
And while there was drama at the Water Cube one of Phelps' golds came by a hundredth of a second, another came thanks to a relay teammate's huge comeback Bolt left no room for doubt in any of his three events at the Bird's Nest.
He won the 100 by 0.20, then the 200 by 0.66. The margin in the relay, 0.96 over second-place Trinidad and Tobago, was the biggest in that event at the Olympics since 1936. Japan was third.
"We simply couldn't compete," Trinidad and Tobago's Marc Burns said.
The relay actually was close after Nesta Carter ran the first leg for Jamaica, and Frater the second. Bolt changed that quickly, putting his team way out in front, even if he wasn't running the leg he hoped.
"Usain wanted to start. He wanted to lay the hammer down from the start," Frater said. "The coaches wanted him to run the third leg. We listened to the coaches."
After passing along the baton to anchor Asafa Powell no small feat, if you ask the U.S. teams that bungled exchanges in qualifying a night earlier, or the Jamaican women, who did the same thing earlier Friday Bolt pointed at Powell and yelled encouragement. Even as Bolt slowed in his lane, his work done, the other teams' anchors couldn't catch him for about 30 meters that's how big Jamaica's lead was.
The Jamaicans shattered the old mark of 37.40, originally set by a U.S. team that included Lewis at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, then matched by another American quartet in 1993.
With that latest gold and world record secured, Bolt went into his now-familiar postrace routine. He yanked off his golden spikes and did a barefoot dance. He pointed his fingers to the sky, pantomiming an archer's stance.
This time, though, thrilled to be part of a team effort, he added a new wrinkle, chest-bumping Powell, the man who held the 100 record for three years until this kid came along. It was Powell's first Olympic medal.
"I said to Asafa, 'Can we do this?"' Bolt recounted, "and he was like, 'Don't worry, mon, we got this one."'
Not that it's all that easy to get a baton all the way around a track, not at high speed, at the Olympics, with the world watching. How else to explain all of the goof-ups? First by the U.S. men in qualifying Thursday which is why they weren't on the track to push Bolt, Powell and Co. in the final then by the U.S. women in 400 qualifying and then by the Jamaican women in the 400 final.
That last error wiped out the Caribbean island's bid to become only the second country to go 6-for-6 in the sprinting events at an Olympics; the United States won the men's and women's 100s, 200s and 400 relays at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, which were boycotted by the Soviet Union.
Still, 5-of-6 ain't bad. Consider the flip side: The United States will leave an Olympics 0-for-6 in the sprint races for the first time.
"All I can say is: Yo, Jamaican sprinters, taking over the world," Bolt said.
The Jamaicans were overwhelming favorites in the women's 400 relay final, given that their squad boasted the 100 (Shelly-Ann Fraser) and 200 (Veronica Campbell-Brown) champions, along with the women who tied for silver in the 100 (Kerron Stewart and Sherone Simpson).
Second-leg runner Simpson tried to hand off the stick, vigorously shaking her hand forward, and Stewart tried to grab it, forcefully thrusting her hand backward, but they simply could not get the exchange done. Eventually, they bumped into each other, and Jamaica was disqualified. Russia won in 42.31.
As the replays of the miscue ran repeatedly on the overhead video boards, Simpson, Stewart and anchor Campbell-Brown watched and discussed what happened.
Even with that disappointment, Jamaica's six overall gold medals in track and field are one more than the U.S. team, which got No. 5 from Bryan Clay in the decathlon Friday.
"I'd love for this to be a spark for the decathlon," said Clay, the 2004 Olympic silver medalist, "and bring it back to the forefront."
In other medal events, Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia won the women's 5,000 in 15 minutes, 41.40 seconds, more than 1 1/2 minutes slower than her world record, to add that gold to the one she earned in the 10,000; Steve Hooker won Australia's first track gold medal of these Summer Games and cleared an Olympic-record 19 feet, 6 3/4 inches (5.96 meters) in the pole vault; and Maurren Higa Maggi of Brazil leaped 23 feet, 1 1/4 inches (7.04 meters) on her first attempt to beat defending Olympic champion Tatyana Lebedeva of Russia by a half-inch in the women's long jump.
The long jump bronze went to Blessing Okagbare of Nigeria, who originally didn't qualify for the final but made the field when Lyudmila Blonska of Ukraine was kicked out because she tested positive for a steroid after winning the silver medal in the heptathlon last weekend.
There were those who wondered whether doping cases like hers would define track and field at the 2008 Olympics. Instead, Bolt provided the longest-lasting memories, with his excellence and his exuberance.
The only thing International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge had to worry about was whether the Jamaican was having too good a time. Instead of thanking Bolt, Rogge chastised him, saying the sprinter didn't show enough respect for his opponents and engaged in too much "Look at me" hot-dogging.
Bolt shrugged off the criticism.
"The crowd loves it they love when I put on a show for them," Bolt said. "They come out and pay their money to see a good performance and also to see a personality. So I go out there and give them a show."
Oh, does he ever.