Usain Bolt called time on his incredible career last month and it is fascinating to see how the achivements of one individual has captured the sport.
One of the most notable things about Bolt’s career is just how much he is admired by the sporting public. When Justin Gatlin was announced as the winner in the 100m finals on the big screen, a hostile reception greeted him with a deafening sound of ‘boos’. Simply put, this happened because Bolt did not win. The hero of athletics was racing for the last time in the 100m and his moment to leave on a high was ruined. Perhaps the hostility of the boos was also because Gatlin was labelled a cheat as he was found guilty of doping twice in his professional career. However, the fans, from all over the world, wanted their hero Usain Bolt to win and it shows us just how much the world got behind him. Everybody wanted tickets to the 100m finals because Bolt would be racing, despite the fact that the race would only last ten seconds. What is it about this man that captures the attention of the world?
Bolt was brought up on the small island of Jamaica and first came onto the radar of Jamaican Athletics at the IAAF World U20 Championships in 2002, which just happened to be hosted in Kingston. At the championships, Usain Bolt won the 200m race at a time of 20.61s. He was the first ever world champion at the age of just 15 and in doing so, he became the youngest ever world junior champion. Bolt is still the only 15-year-old champion and the rarity of becoming a junior world champion at that age highlights just how special this achievement was and marked the potential that Bolt had.
Early in Bolt’s career, he was predominantly a 200m runner and following his junior world champion title, he went on to compete in the 200m at Athens 2004, as a 17-year old. Unfortunately, the Jamaican was not fully fit and was eliminated after the first heat. As he grew older, people were expecting him to progress to the 400m and there was serious talk about Bolt as being the successor to the great Michael Johnson. There was a general consensus that he was too tall for the 100m and it wouldn’t suit him very well, so the natural expectation was for him to tackle the 400m. However, Bolt’s agent Ricky Simms stated that Usain was not fond of training for the 400m and instead he would keep asking questions about running the 100m. Eventually, in 2007, Bolt’s coach allowed him to compete in the 100m and in what I think was his first competitive attempt at the 100m, he ran 10.03s and won the race. This 10.03s is probably the most critical race time ever recorded in athletics because it gave Bolt confidence at the 100m and kickstarted his career as a sprinter. He was able to devote his full training to short sprinting and that attitude is probably what helped him achieve his gold medals.
WINNING AT THE HIGHEST LEVEL
Bolt was beginning to become noticed during 2007 and at the World Championships that year, Bolt came runner-up to Tyson Gay in the 200m. Bolt said that during that race he was doing everything in his power to run faster, but his fastest just wasn’t good enough to beat Gay. Bolt’s coach identified the issue as being his training; it was effectively part-time training and the words of his coach inspired Bolt to work even harder to become the best. The consequences of his training were seen just only a year later.
Bolt winning the 100m in Beijing with ease
Prior to Beijing 2008, Bolt broke the 100m world record in only his fifth professional race in New York in May, running in 9.72s. This was only a sign of things to come and he really burst onto the global stage at the Beijing Olympics when he romped to his maiden 100m gold medal, breaking his own world record in the process. He ran in 9.69s and it was such a fascinating race because not only did Bolt win it, he won it by 0.2 seconds and for the last 10m of the race, he was coasting. If you re-watch that race on this clip, the commentators’ description of race really emphasise how easy it seemed for Bolt. When Bolt crossed the finish line, he was at least 1-2m ahead of second place; it was truly astonishing how he had won the race. Not only did he coast to victory, he had broken the world record in doing so.
Four days later he only went and broke the world record for the 200m. He destroyed his opponents in that race by running in 19.30s, which was an unbelievable 0.66s quicker than Shawn Crawford who finished second. This was just the start of his professional career and Bolt already making a mockery of sprinting. The manner of his victories were truly astounding to the point where fellow competitors were giving him praise. To add to this incredible success, Jamaica won the 4x100m relay to give Bolt three Gold medals in his debut Olympics. However, in January 2017 it was announced that Nesta Carter failed a drug test, so the entire Jamaican team was disqualified for this race.
Bolt had worked so hard on his technique; he put in the hard yards and wanted to be the best he could be. From being in a position where Bolt claimed he was unable to push Tyson Gay in the 200m finals in 2007, to breaking the 100m world record twice and the 200m world record just illustrates how special this athlete is.
If we fast forward a year later to the World Championships in Berlin, Bolt won the 100m, 200m and the 4x100m with Jamaica. This time, however, the Jamaican athlete reached new heights as he smashed his 100m record by 0.09s and his 200m record by 0.11s. Again, he won both races by clear daylight, especially in the 200m. In just the space of a year he was able to improve his game to the point where nobody even comes close. In the 2017 World Championships, Ramil Guliyev won the 200m title and ran in 20.09s; he got nowhere near the 19.19s set by Bolt. In the space of two years, Bolt had broken the 100m and 200m world records on five occasions. The rate of improvement from the Jamaican athlete was breathtaking.
Bolt retaining his Olympic title at London 2012
What made Bolt truly great was the amount of times he was able to retain his titles at every opportunity. He won every single one of his Olympic races; retaining his 100m and 200m title on two occasions. If we put the 2011 false start aside, Bolt won nineteen consecutive gold medals from Beijing 2008 all the way to Rio 2016. That is a staggering number of wins by any stretch of the imagination and for him to do it when all the pressure is on him is quite an achievement. Everybody expected Bolt to win these races; everybody wanted Bolt to win the races and Bolt responded by winning all the races. From Beijing 2008 until the start of London 2017, the Jamaican did not lose a single race across the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay.
Usain Bolt will no doubt be one of the most remembered sportsmen of all time for a variety of reasons. Any sportsmen or sportswomen that are remembered greatly tend to leave some form of a legacy behind them and Bolt has left an incredibly memorable one.
From 2003-2008, Athletics as a sport was suffering slightly from the BALCO scandal, which involved professional athletes using performance enhancing drugs that were banned. It was a bad time for the sport with the outbreak of this disastrous news. Following the conclusion of the investigation, the first major Athletics competition was the Beijing Olympics and to have Bolt win the races in the manner that he did just put a fresh face across the sport. He essentially became the poster boy for the sport because of his heroics in the Bird’s Nest Stadium and he changed the pinnacle of athletics back to the 100m. It is like Bolt’s arrival on the global stage of athletics that sparked a new chapter in the history of the sport and since then, nobody has become obsessed with the doping allegations; it is always about the races and sport itself.
As any world record holder would be, Bolt is a national hero too. It was not the fact that Jamaica were short of athletic talent, in fact many people were talking highly of Asafa Powell prior to the 2004 Olympics, but on the global stage, Powell fluffed it and finished fifth. The difference is that Bolt won in Beijing and then won his next 18 races that followed it. Anybody with that kind of ability will be highly regarded wherever they are.
Furthermore, what makes Bolt so special is his pleasing relationship with the crowd and the sporting public. In a sport where doping is common, Bolt is a clean athlete and has won everything on his own ability which sits well with the crowd, but more importantly, he is an entertainer. Bolt is the one at the beginning of races pulling faces and striking poses; he is the one after the race doing a lap of honour, meeting fans and signing autographs. One unforgettable moment of mine is during London 2012 where Mo Farah and himself struck their signature poses together and then they struck each other’s pose. The photos and videos of it went viral and they created memories that will not be forgotten. It was a great way to interact with the London crowd and is one of the many reasons why he is loved globally.
Some careers have fairytale endings, but sadly it was not to be for Usain. However, the legacy he left behind in Athletics and sport will not be forgotten. He is without a doubt one of the greatest, if not the greatest, athlete to walk the planet and it is quite possible we will never see anybody like him. Now that Bolt has retired, perhaps he can focus on a new challenge that might come knocking on his door.