Bolt... how long can he crank up the volts?

When is Usain Bolt going to retire? Will it be after the London world athletics championships or in the not far too distant future after that? Bolt has promised that he would continue to be involved with the sport in some capacity even after hanging up his spikes. But nothing can match the thrill of watching Bolt in full flight. All we can do now is thank him for the memories. And cherish every exhilarating second left.

Bolt’s signature victory dance in Monaco. The cheer girls too pitch in.   -  GETTY IMAGES

Early in June, when the organisers of the 56th Ostrava Golden Spike announced to the world that Usain Bolt had confirmed his participation, they published a statement on the event’s website. “The best athlete of history Usain Bolt will fly to Ostrava this year again,” it began, “where he will perform in the 100m on Wednesday, 28 June.”

Bolt had been matter-of-factly referred to as ‘the best athlete of history,’ but it did not in the least seem like an exaggeration.

Also curious was the use of the verb ‘perform’; they could have said ‘race’ or ‘run’ or ‘compete’, but they didn’t. And somehow it felt right.

For Bolt is no ordinary sprinter. He is arguably the most recognisable athlete in the world, a delightful, charismatic entertainer adored by audiences everywhere, a carefree star of the sort only those islands in the Caribbean can produce. And he has been, for almost a decade now, the world’s fastest man.

On August 12, Bolt’s professional career will likely come to an end, with the men’s 4x100m relay at the IAAF World Championships in London set to be his last race. Ahead of the Golden Spike meeting in Ostrava, the Jamaican revealed that he was still not certain the Worlds would be his final engagement, although he was clear he was retiring this season. “We haven’t fully made up our mind on what we’re doing yet,” he said, having previously declared that London would be the end. “I’m not worrying about that until the World Championships or at least getting close to it.”

Either way, we will not get to see Bolt on the track for very long.

Usain Bolt poses with the trophy after winning the men’s 100m event at the IAAF Diamond League athletics meeting in Monaco on July 21, 2017. Bolt, who is slowly warming up for the world championships, came under 10 seconds after winning two earlier races at over 10.   -  AFP

 

“It’s just been a great career. I’ve really enjoyed the ups and downs, all the experience I’ve gathered, all I’ve been through, the happiness and the sadness,” he said in June. “I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do and it’s coming to an end and I’m fine with it.”

It is staggering to behold Bolt’s career. Nine Olympic golds (before one of them was taken away for Nesta Carter’s doping offence), 11 World Championship golds, the three fastest times in the history of the 100m, seven of the 12 fastest in the 200, and unbroken dominance over three editions of the Games. All without a whiff of scandal.

Bolt has saved track and field, arriving on the scene at a time when one drug cheat after another was dragging the sport through the mud. And this will be Bolt’s defining legacy, that he reached the pinnacle clean, that he beat cheats without resorting to unfair means himself, and single-handedly revived his sport.

In a recent interview with the BBC, the 30-year-old discussed the 2015 season, when he was in poor form going into the Beijing World Championships. He was up against an increasingly quick Justin Gatlin, a man previously banned twice for doping offences. It was billed as a battle between good and evil. “I needed to win,” Bolt said. “I tried to avoid talking about good and evil but I knew what it was and I knew what I had to do.” He won, and the world heaved a sigh of relief.

Bolt would have retired after the 2016 Olympics but he has stated that his contract required him to continue for one more year. He will be a couple of weeks away from turning 34 when the Tokyo Games begin in 2020 — Gatlin was the same age when he won the silver in Rio — but clearly, Bolt does not want to carry on if he is not at the top. “I don’t want to continue and at the end start losing. Because I hate losing,” he said.

In London, Bolt will compete (or perform, if you like) in the 100m and 4x100m relay only. He is giving the 200m a miss presumably because he feels he cannot beat Andre de Grasse or Wayde van Niekerk.

This has not been an easy season for Bolt. He was shattered by the death of his close friend Germaine Mason in Kingston in April. Bolt had been out with Mason, an Olympic silver-medallist for Great Britain in the high-jump, shortly before the latter died in a motorcycle accident. He was in tears at the funeral, where he was one of the pall-bearers, and it took him weeks to recover.

“It was rough for me at the start. It took us by surprise and set me back a little bit training-wise,” he said later.

“Mentally, I wasn’t ready to even train for, like, two and a half weeks, which I had to take off and just collect myself.”

Usain Bolt crosses the finish line to win the men’s 100m event in Monaco. The Jamaican legend hates losing and wants to finish his career on a high.   -  AFP

 

Bolt’s first race this season was his last ever appearance in Jamaica, an emotional evening at the Racers Grand Prix in Kingston in June.

Cheered on by a raucous, feverish home crowd, a nervous Bolt managed only a time of 10.03, although he still won. “I don’t think I’ve ever been that nervous running a 100m,” he said later. “I think that was possibly one of my worst races. My execution was poor, my start was poor as always. I think in the last bit I lost it a little. But I didn’t expect anything spectacular because I have had a lot of time off. The two weeks I missed was rough.”

Bolt then went to the Czech Republic for the Golden Spike meeting, where he struggled home in 10.06, making it the first time he had clocked over 10s in successive races since turning professional in 2004.

He blamed it on a stiff back, and then headed to Germany to meet his doctor, Hans-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt. The visit seemed to have worked for three weeks later at the Monaco Diamond League, he eased to victory in 9.95.

That was Bolt’s best time this season but it was only the 13th fastest performance in the world in 2017. America’s 21-year-old Christian Coleman has the fastest time this year of 9.82 while Yohan Blake has a 9.90 and a 9.93. South Africa’s Akani Simbine, who was just behind Bolt in Kingston, has finished inside 10s on eight occasions this season; he surely is a podium contender in London.

Bolt poses with a young admirer in Monaco after autographing her drawing of the Jamaican flag. The following for Bolt is mind-boggling.   -  AFP

 

Bolt may have started the season poorly but he showed in Monaco that he was steadily improving. Besides, he is primarily a competitor. “If there’s one thing that keeps me going, it’s losing,” he said. “I can’t lose. I’ve done all I can do in this sport but to go out losing is not my thing. I want to give the fans the best goodbye, a show because that’s what they want.”

His exit will leave a giant hole in track and field, something that will be impossible to fill. Speaking at his farewell race in Jamaica, the IAAF President Sebastian Coe summed up Bolt’s stature and massive global appeal. “When you’re sitting in the pub and you’re having the discussion over who is the greatest footballer, nobody will agree on that,” Coe said. “If you have the same discussion around golf or tennis, everybody will have different views. (But when it comes to sprints) it’s a slam dunk. (Bolt) is the greatest sprinter the world has ever seen.”

That evening, Bolt promised he would continue to be involved with the sport in some capacity. “I’ll try my best even when I’ve hung up my spikes, to really continue to push track and field in any way possible,” he said. But nothing can match the thrill of watching Bolt in full flight. All we can do now is thank him for the memories. And cherish every exhilarating second left.

Usain Bolt crosses the finish line to win the men’s 100m event in Monaco. The Jamaican legend hates losing and wants to finish his career on a high.