Saluting a true champion

Usain Bolt retires with his head held high. In a sport, regularly tainted with dope cheats he stayed well above that and was a shining example to the rest of the sporting world.

We may never see another Usain Bolt just like the cricketing world has not seen another Sir Don Bradman.   -  Getty Images

Are there any golden goodbyes in sport? Has any legendary sportsperson retired in a blaze of glory in his final big appearance before hanging up his boots? Not too many examples come to mind. There have been some who have done reasonably well, but not as wonderfully well as in their heyday. But those again are far and few between and their last performances were hardly memorable and not the stuff of legend.

Usain Bolt’s final race on the world stage was the 4x100 metres relay for his country Jamaica and as always he was running the final leg. The previous week he had been surprised and was pushed to a third place finish in his favourite 100 metres race by Justin Gatlin. Naturally, he was keen to show that he still had the burst of speed in the relay. But as always, man proposes and God disposes, so halfway through that final sprint Bolt tore a hamstring muscle and fell down and looked forlornly as others went past. It was such a sad sight to see the greatest sprinter of all time lying helplessly on a track, which he had dominated for close to a decade. Of course the cynics — and in the days of social media they are there in tens of thousands — were quick to suggest that he had faked the injury since he realised that there was no way for him to outrun the others and breast the tape for a win. The great man had to release the scans, medical reports, etc of his injury to convey the genuineness of his injury just to keep these doubters quiet.

Bolt’s final race has parallels to Sir Don Bradman’s final innings in Test cricket. The great man came in to bat, needing only four runs to have an average of 100 in Test cricket. When he came in, the entire England team gathered around the pitch, along with captain Norman Yardley, and doffed their caps and gave him three cheers. Two deliveries later Sir Don was walking back to the pavilion, bowled by a googly from Eric Hollies for a duck.

There was no social media back then. But there were suggestions, from his supporters, that Sir Don had become emotional after that farewell by the English team and had tears in his eyes and didn’t see the ball properly. Now just imagine if that had happened in today’s times. There would have been many more theories. The most heinous: it was fixed and he was paid millions of dollars to ensure that he did not get an average of 100. That’s why “the tears in the eyes” theory, even though incorrect as Sir Don himself confirmed later, is a mild one. It also tells you a thing or two about how supporters, fans and the so called well-wishers have changed over the years. Every time Sir Don went out to bat the fans expected a century and he got one every 2.41 times he went out to bat. If he had been playing now, every time he didn’t get a ton there would be doubts raised about his honesty and integrity.

Looking at the farewell of these two ultimate legends of their respective sports, perhaps it makes sense not to announce a retirement. Just do it when you have had enough and know that you can’t perform at your peak any more. Announcing the decision to retire at the end of a series or after a particular competition only increases the pressure on the individual because not only are there huge expectations from the public, but from yourself also, as you know that this is it, that there won’t be any comeback after this event.

You thus put yourself under unnecessary strain and that can cause the muscles to tighten up, which is what could have happened in Bolt’s case. Of course he had hardly raced competitively after the Rio Olympics last year, so clearly he wasn’t at his peak fitness level. There is a huge difference between training and actual competition. In training there is no pressure, but in competition there is the pressure of expectations and that can and does cause muscle issues with the surge of adrenalin.

Bolt retires with his head held high. In a sport, regularly tainted with dope cheats he stayed well above that and was a shining example to the rest of the sporting world. We may never see another Usain Bolt just like the cricketing world has not seen another Sir Don Bradman.