Usain Bolt. Two words and nine letters that will remain ringing around the world long after the Jamaican hangs up his boots for some sun and sand on one of the many worldly Caribbean beaches. The 'triple triple' will be an esoteric anthem that will be sung over and over again, as modern civilisation marvels over this unique human specimen for decades to come. He has taken greatness by its horns and given it an all new life and form with his immortal sprinting around the world.
The gangly giant strode into our conscience with a mythical run in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, leaving deep imprints on the sands of time. It is safe to say that the marks of this 'cheetah' will remain symbols of greatness, fossilised and preserved for the foreseeable future.
As Moses was to Christianity, Bolt was to athletics. He dared to design the Promised Land, before delivering it to the world in his own utterly deceiving nonchalance. One says deceiving, for there was nothing nonchalant about Bolt, absolutely.
Bolt made the 100 m distance seem like an easy stroll, an incredible feat of pace and control that will need a research thesis to understand. In a distance where typical margins are a few hundredths of a meter, Bolt crosses the line several feet ahead of his competition.
In a sense, Bolt was constantly running his own race. The athletes on the lanes around him merely served to provide an aesthetic backdrop. Columns of alpha males filled the frame around an exultant Bolt, visibly stressed athletes stretching every sinew in their body just to remain in the great man’s rear view mirror.
The world needs to be grateful to his parents for giving us the man that took our senses on this journey of heightened pleasure, a joy so unparalleled that any comparison merely pales into insignificance. But the two men that the world really owes a debt of gratitude to are Glen Mills and Lorna Thorpe.
Thorpe, the physical education teacher at William Knibb High School had the vision to identify Bolt’s real calling in sport, that too at a time when the boy was madly in love with cricket. It was a clear case of an inspired Oracle like suggestion that brought Bolt immortality.
More significant though, was Mills, the head coach at the Racers Track Club in Kingston, Jamaica. Despite being a very ordinary athlete with no success, Mills' decision to turn to coaching fuelled several international careers to the glory of the summit.
None more so than Bolt’s. Mills has trained his athletes into collecting over 100 international medals, both in the Olympics and the World Championships. By any standard, that is insanely prolific. While several athletes have tasted metal under the guidance of Mills, Bolt was the one man who scaled hitherto unknown peaks in the sport.
The fact that Bolt ran the three fastest 100m times and four of the six fastest 200m times, including the WR of 19.19s, is a tribute to the discipline and work ethic of Bolt. It has taken an enormous amount of planning and hard work to create an incomparable body of athletic work.
Mills is the architect and author of the mythology surrounding Bolt. Except that Bolt decided that he can live the myth by extending himself in flesh and blood, by creating a masterful career of speed and longevity, transcending time and imagination.
It is difficult to find the prose needed to edify the career of Bolt. Let alone the triple triple, no athlete has ever managed to win the double – 100m and 200m is successive Olympics.
As much as Bolt’s longevity over the sprint distances – events that demand youthful energy, pace and strength – is mystifying, what has astounded the world time and again is the manner in which he accomplished his victories over hapless competitors.
There was a spiritual calm and grace with which Bolt finished his races, constantly tricking us into disbelief and wonderment. Barring the World Championships in Beijing last year, when a struggling Bolt pipped Justin Gatlin by a 100th of a second (9.79 to 9.80), he has always finished his races on his own terms.
The nearly mythical scale of Bolt’s achievements was the silver lining for athletics during a phase when the sport was buckling under the dark clouds of doping and corruption. Contextually, Bolt’s heroics on the circuit provided a new lease over life, when dark deeds were threatening to strangulate the life out of the sport.
"I've proven to the world I'm the greatest. This is what I came here for. That's what I'm doing. This is why I said this is my last Olympics — I can't prove anything else," said Bolt.
"What else can I do to prove to the world I am the greatest?" asked Bolt, with childlike angst. "I am trying to be one of the greatest. Be among Ali and Pelé. I hope to be in that bracket after these Games."
Bolt belonged in his own rarefied world, one that does not brook comparison. A world in which reality beat dreams every single race. While Bolt’s desire to be decorated alongside Muhammad Ali and Pelé is understandable, it is entirely possible that the Jamaican might even occupy the summit all by himself.
In time to come, as athletes chase the marks left behind by Bolt, his accomplishments will only grow in significance. They will acquire a life of their own, magnified in the eyes of the world as snow-capped peaks at the top of the world. Generations of young men will grow up chasing them only to return with a deeper admiration for their scale and beauty.
Bolt’s body of work will remain forever a thing of beauty that is best admired from a distance. Even if his enormous records at the 100m and 200m races are eventually broken, it is safe to say that no man will ever come close to matching the Oeuvre created by Usain Bolt.
It is a Jamaican tale that will travel around the world for decades to come, a legacy that will stand the test of time.