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Farewell to the greatest

• Posted in Misc. • By JoeBaker

Sport does have a funny way of writing the most dramatic finales. The sight of Usain Bolt pulling up as he sprinted along the fourth leg of the men’s 100m World Championship Final at the London Stadium and crashing to the track was not the way many had envisioned the greatest ever sprint athlete finishing his competitive track career.

It perhaps partly stole the show from an astonishing performance from Great Britain’s gold medal winning men’s quartet. Yet for all the other dramas, wonderful crowds and remarkable performances (let’s not forget the gold and silver medals won by one Mo Farah in his final every track major championship), this World Championships was always really about Bolt.

It says something of not just his achievements on the track, but impact and influence off it, that he is spoken of in the same breath as the late Muhammad Ali, an individual remembered as the greatest athlete of all time. Often people don’t appreciate a sportsman or women until their career ends, when the shock and mourning of their inevitable departure kicks in. It always felt that people never stopped appreciating Bolt as soon as he truly introduced himself to the world stage at the age of 22 during the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, where he won both the 100m and 200m with world records.

And on that, maybe it’s worth just letting the numbers do the talking for a moment. Over a sixteen-year career he won an astonishing 8 Olympic gold medals, 11 World Championship gold medals, a Commonwealth title and, at the very start of his astronomical rise, 2 World Junior Championship golds. All in all, he leaves with a staggering 34 medals across various championships. One might argue that two more golds could easily have been added – he false started when clear favourite for the 2011 World Championship 100m had another removed when one of his team was later found to have taken an illegal substance ahead of Jamaica’s 4x100m win in Beijing. Breaking a world record in your event is some achievement. Over his time on the track Bolt managed to do it six times across his three premier events, breaking the 10-second barrier on 49 occasions. It is unlikely we’ll ever see the same kind of consistency in sprinting again over such a prolonged period.

When people first saw Bolt burst onto the scene, they just didn’t get it – he just did not look or move like sprinter. They are normally of an average height, Bolt is a giant. They are normally stocky yet Bolt, whilst obviously a well-toned athlete, was far leaner with longer limbs. Sprinters are meant to be fast out of the blocks, yet Bolt was never a good starter, gradually picking up speed in the middle of the race and often cruising over the finishing line. Sprinters run along the ground – Bolt simply glided. Part of the allure and fascination with great sportsmen and women isn’t just their success but the way they went about achieving it – think the distinctive kicking stance of Jonny Wilkinson or the famous one-handed backhand of Federer. For Bolt, it was his almost languid running style, effortlessly pulling away from opponents pumping their arms and legs as fast as possible as they failed to stick with him.

It was not just the talent of Bolt that made him such a star but the character and personality that went with it. Do you know anyone who has ever really disliked the 6ft 5in giant from Kingston? The different shapes and moves he would throw right before a race entertained the crowd and were a far-cry from the serious faces and slow nods we were used to see from runners naturally in the zone and focusing on the task at hand. Yet this was Bolt’s unique way of relaxing at the blocks, the final stage of his preparation. From the famous posing with Farah at London 2012 to his celebratory runs around the track in front of awe-inspired fans and his regularly amusing and action-packed press conferences, the character of Bolt was almost as enthralling as the running itself.

It is not just Jamaica who are worrying about replacing Bolt, but the wider sport of athletics itself. He transcended the world of athletics and will forever be a sporting superstar. Bolt was a breath of fresh air throughout his track career – a completely unique sprinter, running clean, constantly pushing the boundaries of what seemed humanly possible and doing all of it with a smile on his face. There’s no point talking about the next Usain Bolt. There simply won’t be one. 

If you've been inspired by the career of Bolt, why not further your own by doing an athletics programme in Australia

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