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Usain Bolt: A tribute to the phenomenon

Bolt

Thousands will never dance again at a stadium to Bob Marley’s One Love. Millions will never see live on TV again the greatest sprinter the world has ever seen, as Usain bolt has said goodbye to the world of competitive sprinting after an unprecedented career. Triple double, i.e both 100m and 200m titles at 3 consecutive Olympics ( 2008, 2012 and 2016) is his staggering feat. This has not been done by any other sprinter, and is not likely to be repeated.

In fact the feat was actually a treple treple. He had won 3 more Olympic Golds by being a member of the 4 x 100 relay team, though unfortunately one Gold, and also the world record was taken away after his team member Nesta Carter was disqualified for doping offences. This was detected in 2017 as many as 9 years after the actual gold winning performance in the 08 Olympics. Thus Bolt finished with 8 Olympic Golds.

At the World Championships as well, Bolt , just before his final event at 2017 London Usain had as many as 11 Golds and 2 silvers and is the most successful athlete ever at this premier event.

We will come to his performance at his final event a bit later. Before that let us  hop on a time machine and go back to the future to assess a few aspects of Bolt’s life and persona.

Born in Sherwood Content, a small town in Jamaica, Bolt’s parents ran a local grocery store. Usain was interested in both football and cricket, and has often said that if he were not a sprinter, he may have been a cricketer. He has stated that he is a fan of Sachin, Chris Gayle, Hayden and as a child admired the Pakistan Cricket team and the bowling of Waqar Younis. He has clean bowled Gayle in a match and hit him for a six. Curtly Ambrose has admired his pace bowling. Bolt also has stated that he is a lover of the football team Manchester United and has expressed a desire to play for it after he retires from athletics.

Interestingly, Bolt’s height . at 6’5 is considered a disadvantage in sprints. However his being Jamaican itself has helped. Studies have shown that 75% of Jamaicans have the sprinting gene ACTN3 as compared to 70% Americans. The centre of gravity of Jamaicans is believed to be at the sole of the feet. Some even say that the aluminium rich soil of Jamaica increases the activity of the sprinting gene.

However Bolt converted his height from a disadvantage to an advantage. He takes longer strides. While most elite sprinters take between 43 to 50 strides over a 100 m race, Bold takes just 41. His tall height also means that in the last 60% of the race he pulls away from his competitors as he usually has a weaker opening start than them. My personal view is that it is possible that his disqualification in 2011 World Championships has led to a slightly slower and cautious start and moreover Bolt knows and has the confidence he can make it up in the second half of the sprint.

Bolt is a Jamaican. Is that significant ? Why does Jamaica steadily send across world champions ?

Certainly hard work goes behind Jamaica having world champions on a conveyor belt. In March every year there is the Annual Boys and Girls Schools sprints championships which is held in the 35000 capacity National stadium. It is always full as spectators come in large numbers to cheer their school champions who they know are world beaters of tomorrow. Sponsors as well as talent scouts are there and they often choose these young school boys and or young girls to encourage them and ensure they take up sprinting as  ac career.

This apart, the very culture of Jamaica seems to encourage sprinters and sprinting. Hilly terrain and grass ensures strong hamstrings, calf muscles and legs, excellent stamina  and less injuries. Sprinting is a way to escape poverty and sprinters are well respected. The average diet of Jamaican stresses on fruits and vegetables and the weather allows throughout the year outdoor training.

Coming back to Bolt,  it is an interesting reflection of his personality that other elite sprinters not only respect but also like him. Normally a superstar is aloof and tends to look down upon his “lesser mortals”. Bolt is different and his rivals know very well that while Bolt may monopolise the medals, he has brought global attention on himself which results in getting huge hikes in pay for other sprinters as well.

The Olympic dream began when Bolt, already earmarked for success in 200m expressed his desire to run the 100m as well. His coach , Mills was initially skeptical due to his poor starts and habit of looking over the shoulder. However as a concession and encouragement he told him that he could do so if he broke the Jamaican National record. Bolt duly did and the coach agreed to his request. Usain stunned the world by setting a World record in only his 5th 100m race.

In the 2008 Olympics, Bolt was already a favorite for both the 100 and 200m. He ran an electrifying race to win the 100m with a 9.69 , improving upon his own WR. Strikingly Bolt slowed down at the end of the race to celebrate and his shoelace too was untied. He also won the 200m by breaking all time great Michael Johnson’s World record and followed it up with yet another world record performance for the 4 x 100 metre gold. Little did he visualise this would be taken away nine years later.

In 2012, Bolt retained the 100m and the 200m to be the 1st ever to defend both sprint Golds. During the 200m win he placed his finger on his lips to silence his critics and just after completion he did 5 push-ups , one each for his 5 golds. Bolt then with ease helped his fellow Jamaicans to the 4 x 100m gold as well. This was celebrated by imitating the Mobot celebration of all time great Mo Farah. All these gestures too make him a Champion different from other Champions.

Both in 2015 and 2016, his rival Justin Gatlin appeared much better prepared. For instance in 2015 , Gatlin had broken the 9.8 barrier 5 times. Yet at the World Championships, it was Bolt who won by a margin of 0.01 seconds with a timing of 9.79 to Bolt’s 9.8. The same story continued in the Olympics of 2016 where for the 3rd time in 3 Games Bolt won the 100, the 200 and the 4 x 100, though in the run up Gatlin appeared better prepared.  Bolt justified what he had said before the Games that he wanted to win and he wanted to be as great as Pele and Mohd Ali. It appeared as if Bolt was mocking at his rivals and saying- Do what u want, i will still finish ahead of you.

It finally came down to his last event, the 2017 World Championships at London. Surely Bolt would go out with a win. The fates seemed in his favour as his main rival, Canadian sprinter Andre de Grasse, opted out due to hamstring issues. Others seemed nowhere close to his aura. However Bolt won his heat with a slow 10.07. While in the semi final he improved to 9.98, that was 0.01 second slower than Christian Coleman. Surely however in the final he would win.

Well, he did not. Slow Start was maybe the Achilles heel for Bolt who finished 3rd, behind Coleman and none other than Justin Gatlin, after threatening but failing to defeat Bolt in 2015 and 2016 managed to do so in Bolt’s last race of his life.

However as a homage, the victor Gatlin knelt before the vanquished Bolt. It was a symbolic gesture that Bolt is the greatest.

There will never be a Usain Bolt again.

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