Usain Bolt, adieu: Why there will never be another sprint champion like the 'Lightning Bolt'

What does Usain Bolt do when he misses a bus?
He waits at the next bus stop!

Usain Bolt is a ‘superman’ among athletes and a ‘showman’ like no one else. And yet, he is human.

In the world of athletics, for the last decade or so, there was Bolt and then there were others who ran for the silver and the bronze.

The fact that he won a ‘bronze’ in his final 100-metre race, at the IAAF World Championships of 2017 showed that he is mortal too!

There are the Peles, the Muhammad Alis, the Hortonos, the Federers, the Tendulkars and so many others who have been masters of their game, and in the process have won millions of hearts the world over. The one difference between these legends and Bolt is that the former had close competitors, while Bolt had none.

Usain Bolt. Illustration courtesy Austin Coutinho

Usain Bolt. Illustration courtesy Austin Coutinho

He ran alone; against himself!

In the 200-metre event at the Rio Olympics, Canada’s Andre De Grasse tried hard to catch up with Bolt in the semi-finals. The latter turned around and smiled at De Grasse, even as they took the first two spots. De Grasse, who later picked up the silver behind Bolt, in a rather slow time of 20.02 seconds, said that he received flak from the legend for the semi-final effort. “That was unnecessary. You are young and you will learn from your mistakes,” Bolt is said to have told him.

The legendary middle-distance runner and chief of IAAF Sebastian Coe paid Bolt the ultimate compliment at the beginning of the World Games in London a couple of weeks ago, when he called him a ‘genius’. “You can have the Friday night in the pub conversations about who’s the best footballer and who’s the best tennis player. You can have arguments about Pele or Maradona, Federer or Rod Laver,” said Coe. “But there’s no argument about this guy in sprinting. He is the best sprinter of all time.”

More importantly, Coe said that there may emerge an athlete in future who would break Bolt’s records or win more medals than he did. “But will there be another with his ‘personality’; someone with a view, someone who could fill newsrooms and stadiums?”

A nine-time Olympic gold medallist, Bolt lost one of them when his 4x100 metres teammate, Nesta Carter was disqualified for a doping offence at the 2008 Games, nine years later. He also won consecutive triple golds at the World Championships, from 2009 to 2015, with the exception of a false start in the 100 metres at the 2011 games.

The fact that Bolt’s was a complete domination of sprint events for almost a decade speaks volumes for his dedication, his fitness and his work ethic.

But it wasn’t always that way. As a child, Bolt was laidback and enjoyed playing street cricket and football with the village kids.

The legendary sprinter was born on 21 August 1986 in a small Jamaican town named Sherwood Content. His parents, Wellesley and Jennifer, ran the local grocery. It was his school’s cricket coach who noticed how fast Bolt could run and therefore the school’s athletic coaches, Pablo McNeill — an Olympian — and Dwayne Jarrett took charge of the young, lean and tall sprinter.

Bolt’s slackness, his lack of will to train hard and of course, his pranks often frustrated McNeill. But he didn’t give up. Many years later, when asked what motivated him to run, though he hated track and field, Bolt said, “The need to buy a washing machine for my mom.”

At that age, Bolt hadn’t even fancied becoming a great athlete. Seeing his mother slog at home and in the grocery, he said, “My mom always washed and when she finished, she had blisters on her hands.” He also wished that he could buy a vehicle and a home for his father. The only way he could do that was through athletics. So he ran fast and trained hard.

Bolt’s net worth, according to reliable sources, as he bids goodbye to athletics is $60 million. That sure is a lot of money for a washing machine!

In stark contrast to his childhood dislike for running, he announced on the eve of the Rio Olympics that he would run a sub 19-second 200 metres. He claimed that he wanted to be known as the ‘greatest sportsman of all time’ and that he had a ‘master plan’ in place.

Bolt’s ‘master plan’ and his long-time coach, Glen Mills though hadn’t accounted for the sprinter’s ageing, 30-year-old body. He was, therefore, disappointed to have won the 200-metre gold with a timing of 19.78 seconds — way slower than his world record of 19.19 seconds.

It was time the legend called it a day. The 100-metre ‘bronze’ at the World Championships therefore told him, in no uncertain terms, that he was slowing down. This weekend, he will take his final bow from competitive athletics with the 4x100 metre run. His fans, by the million, will only hope he mops up his brilliant career with another gold medal.

In his autobiography, Faster than Lightning, Bolt reveals why he is a champ. He believes that his ‘slave gene’ gives him the advantage over others and a general liking for athletics in Jamaica – like football in Brazil – helps create champions.

He says he realised very early in his career that he would have to train harder than others if he had to be the best. Bolt, 6 ft. 5 in. tall was not built to be a sprinter. World class sprinters are ideally shorter and complete the 100-metre distance in 45 strides. Though he could complete the distance with 41 strides, he had to work hard on his muscles to get faster.

Besides, suffering from a back condition called ‘scoliosis’, he had to strengthen his abs and back to avoid injuries.

Finally, he realised very early not to take what people and the media say too seriously. He worked hard, competed hard and enjoyed himself.

The world record for the 100 metres is a mind-boggling 9.58 seconds, set at Berlin eight years ago. It belongs to none other than Bolt. He was 23 then. A study of that race revealed that though his average speed over the distance was 10.44 metres per second, his cruising speed, 30 metres into the race, was around 12.27 metres per second i.e. around 44 kmph.

His longer strides and his body tilt, which is slightly greater than that of his competitors, help him cruise at a greater speed in the final 70 metres. What’s more, while others start decelerating at the 65 metres mark, Bolt maintains a steady pace till the end.

He had to maintain that cruising pace in an off-the-track incident too, as he revealed to a reporter a few years ago. The story goes that Bolt and three of his athlete friends had hailed down a cab after an evening out at a pub. A few hundred metres away from the hotel that they were staying in, he said, his friends asked the cabbie to stop, got out of the cab and ran away into the darkness.

While the cabbie was stunned, Bolt realised that he would have to pay the entire cab-fare. So he slid out of the cab and started sprinting away too, chased by the cabbie. “There was no way that he would catch me," said Bolt.

Bolt has a steady girlfriend named Kasi Bennet. He doesn’t plan to get married very soon, though, saying it’s a ‘big step’. Known for dating curvaceous women, the legend was asked what physical attribute attracted him to Kasi Bennet. “Thick posterior,” he replied. (True story.)

Before the ‘superman’ walks away into the shadows of the stadium this weekend, his fans —  perhaps with a tear in their eye and a lump in their throat — will wish for his ‘signature’ wave to his fans and his joking around with his competitors before the final race. And, of course, the ‘archer’s pose’ after it, once more, one last time.

Adieu, champ. There will never be another like you!

The author is a sportswriter, caricaturist and a former fast bowler. He is also a mental toughness trainer.

Updated Date: Aug 12, 2017 11:37 AM

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