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Is Usain Bolt the greatest athlete in sports history?

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 19-08-2016 Martin Rogers
Usain Bolt reacts as he wins gold in the men’s 200-meter final. © James Lang, USA TODAY Sports Usain Bolt reacts as he wins gold in the men’s 200-meter final.

Usain Bolt has admitted he hopes his remarkable Olympic career will put him down in history as one of the greatest athletes to have ever lived.

Speaking in the early hours of Friday morning after completing victory in the men’s 200 meters at Olympic Stadium, Bolt said he was honored to be mentioned in the same breath as sporting icons Muhammad Ali and Pele, and Olympic swimming superstar Michael Phelps.

“I’m waiting until after the Olympics to see if (people) will put me in that bracket, if the fans will put me in that bracket,” Bolt said. “I am ready and I am waiting to see what (the media) write tomorrow and after that.”

Bolt beat Andre De Grasse and Christophe Lemaitre to win the 200 in 19.78 seconds, a time slowed by wet and chilly conditions for his third straight Olympic gold in the event and his eighth Games title overall.

He is one of the undisputed stars of the modern Olympics and has seen his career intersect with that of Phelps, who retires with 23 golds.

“Why do I feel like I knew someone was going to ask me that?,” the Jamaican said,  when quizzed about how he compared himself to the champion swimmer. “We do totally different events. You have to leave it up to the mediators and all the press people. (Phelps) has been very dominating, he retired and came back and proved he is still one of the best. I respect him. He has done so much for his sport as well. We are great in our own different fields.”

Bolt will not take part in another Games after this one and admitted that his celebration of falling to his knees on the track was his way of “saying goodbye.”

While his place among the all-time legends of sport is a question that will divide opinion, he is in no doubt as to where he stands among track and field greats.

“I have proven to the world that I am the greatest,” Bolt added. “That is why I came here. That’s why it is my last Olympics. I can’t do anymore. I make people want to come and watch the sport and be involved in it.

“To be an eight-time gold medalist is shocking but I have worked hard to be the best. I have proven to the world I have done great things. I am happy, Olympic champion again, that’s what matters.”

While Bolt said he is happy to let public opinion determine his place in sports history, it takes a certain confidence and self-assurance to be truly world class in such a competitive discipline.

And when asked if, in a hypothetical world, Bob Marley were still alive and had chosen to pen a song about Bolt, what he would want it to be called – the answer was swift.

The Greatest of All Time,” Bolt said.

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