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How big is Usain Bolt? He’s a big deal

But he’s no Bob Marley

Go easy on Bob Costas, my people – Jamaicans and Jam-ericans alike. Lighters down, please. The veteran TV man had an experience we journalists don’t often admit to: He fell in love with his subject, very plain and simple. When this happens (and believe me, it happens more often than we care to admit), it’s written all over our faces and in our mannerisms (the leg-cross, particularly for dudes, is a dead giveaway). It’s also written all over the layup questions we gently toss, the answers all but delivered with a bow.

Like any good relationship, Costas had put his time in – hanging out with Jamaican track and field star Usain Bolt in his homeland earlier this year. During a sit-down interview that preceded Bolt’s 100-meter race, the interview took a peculiar turn when he asked Bolt: “Explain to an American, being as modest as you can, how big you are in this country.”

The question caught Bolt by surprise, or at the least made him a tad uncomfortable – as he sat up in his seat and put both hands on his thighs. “I’m … I’m a big deal. Everybody loves me,” Bolt replied, with a sheepish grin.

Let’s hold the line right there.

Since when did Costas get sweet on Bolt, who won the 200 meters Thursday night for his second gold medal of the Rio Olympics. Rewind just four years, after Bolt had just captured his third gold at the 2012 London Games, this same Costas saw Bolt through quite a different lens. Moments after that 100-meter race, an out-of-breath Bolt found a camera and followed it along the track, like an artist on stage at Reggae Sumfest Jamaica: “They been denying me for years,” a well-hyped Bolt shouted. “All season they been talking. Who’s No. 1? Who’s the legend? Who is it? Me. No. 1. Every day. All day. Believe me.” That was way too much show-doggin’ for Costas, who was in studio, to take – leading him to ad-lib: “No argument there, Usain. And, as great as he is, I guess it’s hard to have a higher opinion of Usain Bolt than he has of himself, so we’ll leave it there.”

And, now, here we are four years later, and Costas is showering Bolt with adulation, and turning Twitter on its head when he went as far as to compare the runner’s notoriety to that of the late reggae icon Bob Marley. “With apologies to all you reggae fans,” Costas said after his segment with Bolt was over and after Bolt had secured his third Olympic 100-meter gold medal. “I think Bolt has even outdistanced Marley.”

No doubt, Bolt is popular; everybody knows him as the fastest man in the world. But he’s no Bob Marley, who put reggae music on the world stage in a career that was cut short at the age of 36. Bolt is 29. Still, Costas’ comment had Jamaicans all over the world kissin’ their teeth in unison.

Fans cheer while watching a broadcast of Jamaica's Usain Bolt winning the men's 100 meters final and becoming the first man to win three successive Olympic titles on the track, in Kingston, Jamaica, August 14, 2016.

Fans cheer while watching a broadcast of Jamaica’s Usain Bolt winning the men’s 100 meters final and becoming the first man to win three successive Olympic titles on the track, in Kingston, Jamaica, August 14, 2016.

REUTERS/Gilbert Bellamy

When Bolt said, “I’m a big deal. Everybody loves me,” he wasn’t thinking about Marley, rest assured that. You can all but guarantee that he was echoing current-day reggae artist Christopher Martin and his hot track, I’m a Big Deal, which so perfectly encapsulates everything Jamaicans know about Bolt.

How so? When Bolt eases up near the finish line, another gold medal well in hand, and beats his chest, Martin’s song puts it this way: I’m a big deal … this has nothing to do with money or fame, or vanity … this one is all about self-worth … [so] big up [your] chest and stand proud … and don’t matter ’bout nobody … so rather [you] walk or you a drive car … better if [you] white or black like tar … push up [your] hand and tell all the haters … I’m a big deal.

So, when Bolt responded to Costas’ “big deal” question, he could only answer one way, saying, maybe even with some modesty: “I’m a big deal, everybody loves me, and for me to be compared to Bob Marley, it says it all.”

Ask any Jamaican, and they’ll tell you that Bolt has a Marley quality – as a larger-than-life celebrity but very much a man of the people, something reggae singer Martin has seen firsthand. “He’s a great individual, a true competitor,” said Martin, who has known Bolt since 2005 and whom The Undefeated managed to track down while he’s on tour in Canada.

“If you get to be around him on the daily, he loves to make jokes. Love to laugh. Loves to help other people.” As for his public persona, Martin speaks of a side of Bolt that is rarely seen. “When you see all the hard work that you put in come to fruition, and you realize that I have just done something that no other athlete or runner has ever done before, I feel like I have all right to do whatever I want to do. [His behavior] has nothing to do with money or fame, it’s all about self-worth, and I know what I am worth at this point and time.”

And, perhaps as a nod to Costas, Martin continues: “He feels like he doesn’t need any kind of validation from anyone. Nah, man. You have to love yourself, and I know my friend truly loves himself. This is the fruit of his labor, and beating his chest while he’s crossing the finish line is the embodiment of the fact that all the hard work has paid off.” Come down selector.

[It’s] like you have the Prime Minister … and then you have we … [That’s the] order in we country … 4.0 [is] the grade-point average … and we never cheat or copy [to] get it … Yo know yo have yo dreams and nobody [can] stop it … just walk out, buss a blank and say, I’m a big deal.

Mark W. Wright is a Charlotte-based sports journalist and documentarian.