Light­ning Bolt may fiz­zle out

The Tribune (NZ) - - SPORT - JOSEPH ROMANOS joseph.romanos@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

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, while his op­po­nents buried them­selves in their own pri­vate worlds, Bolt sky­larked with spec­ta­tors and rac4e 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

‘‘Is Bolt yesterday’s man? Any­one who loves ath­let­ics hopes not, but the signs are not pro­pi­tious.’’

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.

PHOTO: GETTY IM­AGES

Another gold medal, another ‘‘Light­ning Bolt’’ salute to the crowd.

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