Nobody in athletics seems to be quite as “immortal” as Usain Bolt, as BBC commentator Steve Cram quite fittingly put it. As the ‘Lightning Bolt’ comes to the end of his career, there will be big spikes to fill, both figuratively and literally.
The towering figure of Bolt can often be seen effortlessly gliding past his opponents and the 2016 Olympic Games were no different as he recorded the impressive feat of the triple treble of 9 Olympic gold medals over the 100m, 200m and 4 x 100m relay disciplines.
There was a Jamaican sprinter thought to be one of the greatest sprinters before Bolt though.
At the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, Japan, Bolt’s Jamaican compatriot, Asafa Powell, the 100m world record holder at the time, was tipped by many to take home Jamaica’s first global gold 100m title but seized up and finished third.
However, in the 200m Bolt was edged out by US sprinter Tyson Gay. It is bizarre to think that just one year later, starting in 2008, Bolt would begin a reign spanning eight years of pure dominance and of course do what Powell could not do and take home Jamaica’s first global 100m title, breaking the world record in the process, with a jubilant slap of the chest long before reaching the line.
In addition to amassing a trio of gold medals at three Olympics, Bolt has also taken home eleven World Championship gold medals, though in 2011 he false started in the 100m. Aside from that blip, he has never been beaten at the highest level between 2008 and 2016.
Running fast is one thing and his 100m and 200m world records are a testament to his talent as a sprinter, but to continue at the top for so long is what makes Bolt the legend that he is.
Nobody else has ever produced such consistency on the track and it is unlikely that we will ever see another athlete who can mirror the brilliance of Bolt.
In recent years, the man who has come closest to dethroning Bolt is America’s Justin Gatlin, who served a four-year-drugs ban from 2006 to 2010. At 34, Gatlin is four years older than Bolt, but the Jamaican has revealed he will bow out of the sport next year at the World Championships in London as the number one sprinter on the planet.
With nothing more to prove, Bolt does not need to carry on training and competing like the ageless Kim Collins, who at forty, set a new personal best of 9.93 seconds and world record in the veterans’ category. Sadly for Bolt enthusiasts, the Jamaican told BBC Sport that he is not planning on prolonging his career for so long. “I said it would be 100m and that’s it. My coach has a way of trying to convince me, but personally I believe this is my last one.”
There is still perhaps a showdown between the new 400m world record holder and Olympic champion, Wayde van Niekerk, and Bolt to look forward to over the more unusual event of 300m.
BBC Sport pundit and former 200m and 400m Olympic champion Michael Johnson, who held records in both events before they were taken by Bolt and van Niekerk, believes that in Bolt’s absence we may have a sprinter who is a worthy heir.
Johnson said: “That will really help him [van Niekerk] to emerge as the next star of this sport. He seems like a guy who could fill those shoes.” Yet it’s not just the world records and gold medals, but his charisma and personality.
Before a race Bolt can often be seen joking around while others are trying to focus, performing his trademark ‘lightning bolt’ move, which has become popularised worldwide.
People who are not even fanatical about athletics are well aware of who Bolt is and that is what has made him so special: his ability to transcend his sport.
Image courtesy of Steven Zwerink