Usain Bolt (Getty Images)
Rio de Janeiro - Usain Bolt brought the curtain down on his Olympic career with a record-equalling ninth gold medal on Friday, anchoring Jamaica to relay glory in a perfectly-scripted finale to complete his unprecedented "triple-triple."
The 29-year-old superstar, widely seen as the greatest sprinter in history, stormed over the line in 37.27 to trigger an eruption of adulation in the Olympic Stadium.
Japan's quartet took a surprise silver in 37.60 while Canada claimed bronze in 37.64 after the USA were disqualified after crossing the line in third.
The victory saw Bolt complete a third consecutive clean sweep of the 100m, 200m and 4x100m titles following his six gold medals in the 2008 and 2012 Games.
It leaves Bolt - who will retire in 2017 - level with Carl Lewis and Paavo Nurmi on a total of nine Olympic gold medals, a record for a track and field athlete.
The relay gold was the final act of an incredible Olympic career that redefined athletics and often left commentators scrambling to find a new vocabulary of superlatives as each new milestone came and went.
On Sunday Bolt became the first man in history to win a hat-trick of 100m gold medals.
He then followed that up with Thursday's barnstorming win in the 200m, sealing another never-before-seen treble.
Friday's triumph was potentially the most awkward, with Bolt's gold medal hopes reliant on the performances of his team-mates.
But Asafa Powell, Yohan Blake and Nickel Ashmeade were in no mood to fluff their lines, handing Bolt a lead at the final changeover.
From that point there was only ever going to be one outcome and Bolt powered home by three metres to universal delight.
Bolt will now set off a year-long lap of honour that will culminate with the World Championships in London next August.
The Jamaican is preparing to exit with athletics fighting to restore credibility after a year dominated by doping and corruption scandals.
International Association of Athletics Federations president Sebastian Coe is adamant however that athletics will endure despite the loss of its most charismatic leading man.
In an interview with AFP on Friday, Coe said Bolt had transcended his sport in a way that was comparable to boxing icon Muhammad Ali.
"The man is a genius," Coe said. "There's been nobody since Muhammad Ali who's got remotely near to what this guy has done in terms of grabbing the public imagination."
However, Coe argued that just as a new generation of boxers emerged after Ali's retirement, so track and field would unearth new personalities after Bolt.
"It's a massive gap, but it's not a gap that is insuperable," Coe said.
"You're not going to fill that gap overnight, but there are great, talented athletes out there."
Factfile on Usain Bolt after his victory in the 4x100m relay with Jamaica at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics on Friday:
Name: Usain St. Leo Bolt
Born: 21/8/1986 (29)
Height: 1.95m (6ft 5in)
Weight: 94kg (207lb)
100m - 9.58 (Berlin, 16/08/2009) 200m - 19.19sec (Berlin, 20/08/2009)
4x100m relay - (London, 11/08/2012 w/Yohan Blake, Michael Frater, Nesta Carter)
2008 - Olympic Games - 100m, 200m, 4x100m gold medals
2009 - World Championships - 100m, 200m, 4x100m gold
2011 - World Championships - 200m, 4x100m gold
2012 - Olympic Games - 100m, 200m, 4x100m gold
2013 - World Championships - 100m, 200m, 4x100m gold
2015 - World Championships - 100m, 200m, 4x100m gold
2016 - Olympic Games - 100m, 200m gold, 4x100m gold