The Bolt supremacy

Last weekend, many of us were glued to the television in anticipation of Usain Bolt running his final solo race.

Our hearts pounded and our breathing quickened in anticipation. Some of us could not watch, fearing that for once in his stellar career, the legend would be caught.

He had a difficult year – his close friend was killed in a vehicular accident, injuries were taking a toll, he had run under ten seconds only once this year, and, frankly, the desire simply was not there anymore. He all but said it in the BBC documentary, I Am Bolt.

“It’s not as fun as it used to be,” he said. “The older I get, the less fun it is.”

Still, we hoped that the 30-year-old who trained harder than anyone else in the sport had one more great run in his legs.

Yet, it was not to be as Bolt lost to the modern day villain of track and field, Justin Gatlin of the United States, who must now be used to the loud boos directed at him for failing two drugs tests and appearing unrepentant.

However, last weekend’s result took nothing away from the fastest man ever, his status as a legend having long been secured.

He had never made a secret of his desire to become a legend, like Muhammad Ali and Pele. And now he can be mentioned in the same conversation as The Greatest, because, like Ali, he is the greatest. The records don’t lie.

The world has seen many sporting champions, but few would have seen a champion like Usain Bolt.

He wasn’t supposed to be this good. People as tall as he is are not supposed to be good sprinters. One of his legs is slightly longer than the other due to scoliosis.

Yet, sports writers and fans the world over have used every possible superlative to describe the Jamaican, who we all claim as ours.

There were words such as phenomenon, superhero, monomyth, showman.

Bolt brought a certain looseness to track and field. He clowned around at the starting blocks. He laughed. He danced. He shattered the image of an athlete. Who can forget his audacious performance at the 2008 Olympics, when he slowed down in the last 20 metres to savour his world record win?

Competitors might not have liked it, but Bolt remained true to himself, his upbringing, and the sport.

While many around him were doping to get the results, Bolt remained clean throughout.

In the nine seasons between 2008 and 2016, he contested 21 major finals and won 20 of them. He was disqualified for a false start in the 21st.

For eight years an entire generation of athletes had to fight for second place. He broke the hearts of so many, yet everyone loved him, everyone wanted to see the lighting bolt.

His immense talent and fame notwithstanding, Bolt never disrespected his opponents. He never insulted them. He was always the picture of decency and integrity.

This is the man who consoled a cameraman who ran into him with a Segway at the World Athletics Championship in China in 2015. This is the man who gave his beanie hat to the volunteer at London 2012 who was manning his lane. This is the man who halted an interview mid-sentence because the medal ceremony for an athlete was about to begin, and he did not want to talk over someone else’s golden moment. These are the lessons every athlete and every one of us can learn.

And, importantly, this is the man who not only transcended sports very much like Ali, Pele and Don Bradman, but the man many believe saved track and field.

He came into the sport when it was plagued by drugs. Many of the big names, including his compatriot Asafa Powell were caught cheating. But he remained clean, and beat them all. It is part of his charm, his attraction. So was his humility (another lesson).

He was the sports’ biggest attraction in athletics. He entertained, he electrified, he mesmerized. He was track and field and the world will miss him.

Those of us who were around to witness this Bolt supremacy should consider ourselves privileged.

He had a great run, but, as in everything else, time has run out on Usain Bolt.

However, the legend lives.

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