Bolting up for last blast of Usainity
Anticipation at fever pitch as sprint king eyes fitting farewell
LONDON — In the unlikely case that the world of athletics did not know what it will be missing when Usain Bolt retires from the sport in less than two weeks’ time, the Jamaican superstar’s final pre-competition media conference rammed home the message on Tuesday.
These events have become part and parcel of every global championship and though Tuesday’s version in east London lacked the dancing-girl razzmatazz of Bolt’s Rio welcome last year, it scored heavily on nostalgia as every aspect of his stellar career was raked over anew.
As always, journalists and TV crews, around 400 of them, from every corner of the world packed the room and strained their arms in desperation to get their question answered by the great man, who playfully castigated one half of the auditorium for not giving him an enthusiastic enough welcome.
Bolt, of course, is an old hand at dealing with the media and rolled out all the familiar answers, but always with grace.
His proudest moment was winning the world junior title on home soil as a 15-year-old while his most satisfying performance was his 200m world-record run at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where he poured all his concentration into getting the mark he had always wanted, having earlier won the 100m.
He explained how his moti- vation to keep putting his body through such a punishing regime was renewed each year by resetting his goals — with one often created for him by a casually “disrespectful” remark from an opponent.
His target in London is clear — to sign off with a fourth 100m title and a fifth 4x100m relay gold — taking his world haul to 13 to add to his eight Olympic golds — and then head off to play soccer with his friends.
“I’m ready,” he said. “If I show up at a championships you know I’m fully confident and ready to go.
“I ran 9.95 in Monaco so it shows I’m going in the right direction. Going through the rounds always helps me and it’s then about who can keep their nerve. “It’s go time, so let’s go.” London Stadium (renamed since the 2012 Olympics), where he successfully defended his Olympic sprint double five years ago, will rise to acclaim him when he settles into his blocks for the last time on Saturday.
Then, other than the relay a week later, he will be gone, leaving the sport without the man who has been its focal point for a decade.
Tuesday’s event included a big-screen “farewell and thanks” messages from the likes of actors Samuel L. Jack- son and Idris Elba, former France and Arsenal soccer star Thierry Henry, model Cara Delevingne and India cricket captain Virat Kohli, underlining his status as one of the world’s most famous, and arguably its most admired, sportsman.
Bolt, who turns 31 later this month, looked moved by the images, saying: “It’s just brilliant that people in other disciplines respect what you do as they know the work you have to do.”
Ratcheting up the anticipation for his farewell, British television screened his I Am Bolt documentary on Monday night, which opened a window on the rarely seen battles he has endured to overcome injuries and was a testament to his determination to work himself back into shape year after year.
That is one thing he will not miss, and although he thrives on the pressure of the big race, he says he is looking forward to watching the next one from the sidelines.
“Oh yeah, sitting down, talking about it, no pressure,” he said. “The next championship should be fun.
“It’s going to be hard, as track and field has been everything for me since I was 10 and it’s been a rush — but we’ ll see where life takes me.”
He intends to stay close to athletics and is eyeing some sort of ambassadorial role, inspiring the world’s youth to get involved in a sport he says is on the up after reaching “rock bottom” with the recent Russian doping saga.
While fans and the sport’s administrators will miss Bolt enormously, those lamenting his departure most of all will probably be his chief sponsor Puma, the German sportswear manufacturer which has benefited from his glory for a decade in the face of the market dominance of rivals Adidas and Nike.
On Tuesday, Bolt’s parents presented him with his final pair of spikes — a combination of gold, for obvious reasons, and the purple of his school, William Knibb Memorial, where it all started after his cricket coach suggested he try out for the track team.
“I didn’t know I would be a world-record holder growing up, I had no idea,” he said. “So, all I’ ll say now is, if you work hard, anything is possible.”
I didn’t know I would be a worldrecord holder growing up, I had no idea. So all I’ll say now is, if you work hard, that anything is possible.” Usain Bolt
Jamaican superstar Usain Bolt strikes a zany pose during his final pre-competition media conference in London on Tuesday ahead of the IAAF World Athletics Championships, which open on Friday.