Lightning Bolt may fizzle out
Is the greatest sprinter of all time finished? We’ll know soon enough. Usain Bolt, the Jamaican who has captivated the athletics world, is battling to be ready for the world championships in Beijing next month. The signs aren’t good. Bolt hardly ran in 2014, only three races in total. At the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, he was headline news but ran in just the sprint relay. Foot surgery ruined his year.
It’s been a similar story in 2015 – more injury woes and sub-par (for Bolt) performances. His best 100m time this year is 10.12sec, which he’d have managed running backwards a few years ago.
He narrowly won over 200m in New York last month, but described it as the worst race of his career. Then he withdrew from the Jamaican championships.
Now the focus is the world champs, where, as defending champion, Bolt gets automatic entry to the 100m and 200m.
If he doesn’t front there, or runs poorly, then it really will be time to write his athletics obituary.
He’ll have just turned 29 and won’t have run really well for more than two years, an age in sprinting terms.
Even if he never sets foot on a track again, Bolt will always be a legend of his sport.
He was fantastic at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when he scooped the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay sprint gold medals, each in world record time.
The 1.95m Jamaican was not only blindingly fast, but he was a magnetic personality, the closest thing imaginable to Muhammad Ali in his prime.
Before a race,
his opponents buried themselves in their own private worlds, Bolt skylarked with spectators and race officials. He seemed to focus on the job at hand only when the starter summoned the runners to their blocks.
After each race, he would make his traditional ‘‘Lightning Bolt’’ signal to the spectators, who loved him.
He was unbelievably relaxed and epitomised ‘‘cool’’.
I remember him walking around the Berlin stadium in 2009. He looked like the Pied Piper, with hundreds of fans, young and old, following him, hoping for an autograph or a photo.
Bolt has endured well. At Berlin that year he broke all his world records. His 9.58sec for the 100m would have been utterly unthinkable even a decade ago. The same with his 19.19sec for 200m.
He retained his form and scooped three more gold medals at the 2012 London Olympics.
The Jamaican now has six Olympic golds and eight world titles, a sublime record.
With his blazing feats on the track and his charisma off it, it’s no wonder he earns more than US$20 million a year in sponsorships and endorsements.
There are endless stories about him – he wants to play football professionally, he intends turning to the long jump and so on. When they’re put to him, he shrugs and says, ‘‘Why not?’’.
Now, though, the athletics world is full of talk of the new sprint sensation, 19- year- old American Trayvon Bromell, and veterans Asafa Powell and Justin Gatlin ( who is widely scorned after serving two suspensions for taking banned substances).
Is Bolt yesterday’s man? Anyone who loves athletics hopes not, but the signs are not propitious.
Another gold medal, another ‘‘Lightning Bolt’’ salute to the crowd.