How big a star is Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt? Let us count the ways.
When he emerged from the locker rooms and took the infield about an hour before his race at the famous Penn Relays Saturday in Philadelphia, the record crowd of 54,310 couldn’t contain itself.
“It was so loud, I thought, ‘Is the president here?'” said Miki Barber, of U.S.A. Blue, who was warming up for her race at the time.
Barber’s twin sister, Lisa, said she couldn’t hear the music in her headphones.
Then, when it came time for Bolt to compete, then track announcer had to make an unheard of request, telling the crowd to quiet down so the runners could hear the starting gun (see video).
“The starter was telling the crowd to be quiet,” Bolt said. “That’s one in a million. When you go anywhere else in the world, they are quiet (for the start). You get in front of Jamaicans and they make noise until you ask them to be quiet.”
After all his gold medals and world records, you would think the 23-year-old international star would be used to it by now. He’s not.
“Over the past two years I’ve been surprised by the amount of people that know me and the welcome I get when I go to track meets or functions,” Bolt said. “I’m still trying to get used to it and I’m enjoying it.”
And still showing he’s worthy of the adulation.
Bolt led Jamaica Gold to a victory in the USA vs. the World 4×100 relay using a blistering 8.79 split on the anchor leg to give his team a Penn Relays record 37.90 time.
Bolt then took a victory lap that was met with a deafening roar. He stopped twice to make his trademark “lightning bolt” pose. He also signed autographs and posed for pictures with fans.
The Penn Relays is the biggest high school relay carnival in the country. And every year, organizers find a way to get some of the biggest names in the sport to show the prep stars how good you can become.
High schoolers, however, weren’t the only ones taking notice of Bolt.
Lisa Barber, who has been coming to the event since she and her sisters were stars at Montclair (N.J.) High, was thrilled by Bolt’s presence.
“I was leadoff leg and I could actually hear, right next to me, the crowd screaming,” she told John Finger of CSN.Philly.com. “I’ve been coming here for about 12 years now, and this was the loudest one. It was great.”