BOLT WALKS Away From The Tracks
pion, a certain Justin Gatlin, was serving an eight-year suspension for a failed test in April 2006. A few months later, it would be reduced to fouryears.MarionJones,oncethesport’ssprint queen, was about to leave it in disgrace, and the BALCO scandal was the talk of the town.
In the decade since, as Bolt smiled and clowned around on the start line, and smashed record after record, the crowds started to come back, as did some of the belief. In time, modern sport’s ultimate show-stopper grew to transcend athletics. “I saw the race, and can’t say I’m not disappointed that he didn’t win,” says Michael Holding, the West Indies fast bowling great who knows a thing or two about Jamaica’s sporting tradition. Arthur Wint and Herb McKenley wrote the first chapter in London (1948), and Don Quarrie (1976) would add his own story. But Bolt’s personality reached far beyond the final straight. “The loss doesn’t detract from the fact that he is the greatest athlete ever,” says Holding. “He has made me and all Jamaicans, wherever they live, very proud.
“He became as well-known around the world as Bob Marley, and that’s no easy feat. People also appreciated his grace and lack of arrogance as he conquered the world.”
When my six-year-old daughter is old enough to fathom triumph and failure, it’s not footage from Beijing, Berlin or Rio that I will show her. It will be of his last race – the close-up shots of his shoulders tightening and the near-wince Usain Bolt kisses the track having ended his last race with a bronze at the World Championships in London —AFP
on his face as he tried to find that final surge that had so often left competitors in his wake. I’ll show her the disbelief on his face once the line was crossed, when it became apparent that Gatlin and Christian Coleman had snuffed out the fairytale.
But most of all, she should see how this man – who had buried one of his closest friends just months earlier – swallowed that disappointment, and went up to Gatlin and congratulated him,beforeacknowledgingeverycornerofastadium that had come to watch his last individual race. He melded greatness and grace. Instead of being diminished in the face of defeat, he stood tall, smiled and reminded us of what Sagan had once said about astronomy – ‘no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits’.
It was ennobling. And quite heartbreaking.