Usain Bolt’s retirement will rattle athletics
After eight memorable years, Usain Bolt’s Olympic career is officially at an end and what a stint it has been. From his burst onto the scene in 2008 to affirming his legendary status in 2012 to achieving sporting immortality in 2016, it’s been incredible. However, all good things must come to an end.
Athletics is a sport that’s hurting. Despite being arguably the oldest and most natural of sporting institutions, the 21st century has seen its foundations rocked. The festering whispers of doping augmented by the Russia scandal have tainted and, for many, ruined track and field. As someone who loves the sport myself, it truly is a sorry situation.
However, Bolt has served to quell this negative appearance and maintain faith in the sport. With his enigmatic persona, humble off-the-track antics and inspiring confidence on it, the Jamaican attracts fans and viewers in their millions. Take away the Bolt and you see Olympic sprint popularity take a prominent nosedive. He’s a huge allure.
After all, the 30-year-old has the 100m and 200m world records in his back pocket as well as having anchored the fastest 4x100m relay time in history too. He became only the second man to retain the Olympic 100m title in London, only to become the first to scoop the hat trick. Hundreds have tried and failed over the course of 120 years of the games, but Bolt did it at a canter.
For Christ’s sake, his times at Rio 2016 were downright shocking compared to his past performances. Could anyone take advantage? Of course not, even a jaded and ageing Bolt proves miles ahead of the pack. It’s this spine tingling talent, coupled with the ease in which he exhibits it, that musters the ridiculous attention it does.
Before the Jamaican burst onto the scene, sprinters would look down the track in cold concentration or give a wave to the crowd at most. All of a sudden, you have a man winking, gesturing, smiling, laughing and posing for the cameras amidst the most pressurizing situation in sport. Bolt is simply a star. Sure, Justin Gatlin and Yohan Blake do similar routines now, but it was Bolt who had the typical enterprise to inaugurate it all.
However, aside from his unprecedented triple-treble achievements, world records and charisma, it’s the fact he is clean that sees him receive the love he does.
When Bolt breezed to 100m victory at the Beijing games he became the first champion in that event, barring Donovan Bailey in 1996, with no career doping scandals, since 1980. The nine-time Olympic champion is the most scrutinized athlete in the world, but has never tested positive. Even better, he has put the times assembled by dopers to shame with his clean efforts.
Ben Johnson was drugged up to his ears in 1988 and ran 9.79 seconds; Bolt’s personal best rests at 9.58 seconds. Enough said.
Therefore, the 30-year-old stands proudly in a sport riddled with doping knowing that he has made it his own and in a fair manner. That being said, if it ever immerged that Bolt was a cheat, I fear athletics would never recover. For the sake of the sport though we should dispel such fears and revel in his brilliance while we have the chance.
The sorry fact is that Bolt will hang up his spikes after next year’s IAAF World Championships in London. The greatest sprinter of all time will be bowing out of the sport in less than a year. I can phrase it as many ways as possible, but for some it still wouldn’t sink in. The reason being that many can’t imagine the sport without him.
Wayde van Niekerk and Andre de Grasse have been tipped as the new faces of athletics, but let’s be honest here, they’re no Bolt and never will be. The Jamaican’s retirement will rock athletics and track and field will face an uncertain spell. Thanking Bolt for what he has done to the sport is productive, but we must prepare for the future.
Athletics is under enough scrutiny as it is and to think people won’t look on with passionate skepticism would be ignorant. Become entangled in the nostalgia of the sport’s greatest son’s achievements and those involved will walk blindly into the wilderness of what’s to come.
YJA Sports Correspondent