If destiny and natural justice were the defining elements in dictating the outcome of sporting ties, the greatest sprinter of all time would have walked away from the sport in a blaze of gold and glory. Thankfully, they aren’t. Save some very notable exceptions (Roger Federer anyone?) sport hardly mirrors scripts written for cheesy Hollywood blockbusters. Sooner or later the truth catches up with us all; sooner or later time runs out for us all.
Time ran out for Usain Bolt on Saturday, August 5 in London.
To be more specific, time ran out for him about 40 metres into the final 100 metre race of his life. Running on lane 4, Bolt did what he almost always does — start slow. Yet, coming into the 40-metre mark, he was in familiar territory — neck and neck with surprise leader Christian Coleman. This is where Bolt has always put on the scarcely believable afterburners that leave the lesser mortals in his wake. But on Saturday the tank was empty. Instead of a winning smile there was only a grimace. There were no untied shoelaces, no elaborate celebrations, no smiles for the camera — there was just Bolt wincing across the finish line, firmly in the grip of Father Time.
He finished third. Hardly shambolic, but for an athlete who has not just always finished first, but done so with a panache that defies belief, it was a marker of his new found mortality.
Context, they say is everything. Five years ago, on a beautiful summer night in London, Bolt had walked into the post-race press conference asking for drum-rolls. He had picked up the microphone and said, “I am a legend, bask in my glory.” He had told everyone he would now go on to either play for Manchester United as a strike partner for Wayne Rooney or head to the IPL to open the batting with Chris Gayle. And of course he had hated on Justin Gatlin.
And my, had we loved him for it.
That had always been the magic of Bolt — breathtaking talent peppered with soundbites that propelled him from sporting icon to cultural icon. Bolt was the Muhammad Ali of our times, possessing a talent so ephemeral that it seemed godly, but a personality so relatable that he seemed the perfect Friday night bar-hopping buddy. You either loved him or you loved him. Every word he said was a soundbite, every race he ran a push to the limits of human ability.
Bolt 2017 is different — more mature, demure and slower. He called Gatlin ‘one of the best sprinters of our time’ and, asked about future plans, stated a desire to settle down, get married and have children. And of course he ran slower or worse still, couldn’t run at all.
And so it was that on his swansong from the athletic stage, Bolt did the one thing you hoped he wouldn’t — he pulled up. He did so with a grimace and an elaborate somersault but to the watching thousands it was the signal that they had hoped would never come. The end was here of a career that had perfected the truly elemental art of running fast.
“This is crazy, Yohan,” Bolt was supposed to have said to his long-time mate Yohan Blake ahead of the final 4X100 meter relay on August 12.
He meant it in an entirely different context, but yes Usain, your career really has been crazy.