LONDON: An encore for Usain Bolt? Unthinkable.
A loss in his going-away party? Impossible.
Track’s fastest man and greatest entertainer made both those points clear on Tuesday leading to his final world championships this week. It was an engaging hour filled with reminisces, chats about his plans and thoughts about where his troubled and soon-to-be-starless sport might be headed.
Sporting the goatee he wears during world championships, but not the Olympics, the superstar who went 9 for 9 at the Summer Games, shattering records while dancing and smiling his way through the journey, dispensed any notion he might come back.
“For me, the next championships should be fun because now it’s time to watch and see who can hold their nerves,” said the 11-time world champion, who turns 31 on Aug. 21.
As for the possibility, he’d change his mind should he lose in Saturday night’s 100m final: “It’s not going to happen, so we won’t have that problem. Don’t worry,” he said.
He said he’s looking forward to a life of motivational speaking, occasional football games with friends and maybe dipping his toe into action movies to keep the adrenaline flowing.
As for the past, one of Bolt’s most interesting revelations was that his now-famous “To the World” pose, which he debuted after winning his first Olympic gold medal in Beijing, was completely unplanned.
“It’s just something that happened,” Bolt said. “I guess it was by the grace of God. It became big. For me, it worked.”
Bolt’s proudest moment was winning the world junior title on home soil as a 15-year-old while his most satisfying performance was his 200m world record run in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where he poured all his concentration into getting the mark he had always wanted, having earlier danced over the line when winning the 100m.
He explained how his motivation to keep putting his body through such a punishing regime was renewed each year by resetting his goals — with one often created for him by a casually “disrespectful” remark from one of his opponents.
His target in London is clear to sign off with a fourth 100m title and a fifth 4x100m relay gold taking his world haul to 13.
“I’m ready,” he said. “If I show up at a championships you know I’m fully confident and ready to go.
“I ran 9.95 in Monaco so it shows I’m going in the right direction. Going through the rounds always helps me and its then about who can keep their nerve. It’s go time, so let’s go.”
He added: “Usain Bolt has retired unbeaten in an individual event, unbeatable, unstoppable — for me that would be the best headline!”
Bolt refused to single out who would be his closest rival for the 100m, with heats on Friday before the semi-final and final on Saturday at the same stadium in east London where he won treble gold at the 2012 Olympics.
“The seven people who are going to be in that race with me, they’re the biggest challengers,” he said.
Bolt has dominated sprinting since taking double individual gold at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
He also holds world records of 9.58 and 19.19sec in the 100 and 200m, both set when winning at the 2009 Berlin worlds.
Bolt admitted that he hoped his records would last.
“I want to brag to my kids when they’re 15, that I’m still the best,” he joked.
He intends to stay close to athletics and is eyeing some sort of roving ambassadorial role, inspiring the worlds youth to get involved in a sport he says is on the up after reaching “rock bottom” with the Russian doping crisis of two years ago.
While fans and the sports administrators will miss Bolt enormously, those lamenting his departure most of all will probably be his chief sponsor Puma, the German sportswear manufacturer which has shod him and ridden his glory for a decade while the rest of the sport has largely been dominated by rivals Adidas and Nike.
Bolt’s parents were on hand on Tuesday to present him with his final pair of spikes a combination of gold to mark his career highs and the purple of his school, William Knibb Memorial, where it all started after his cricket coach suggested he try out for the track team.
“I didn’t know I would be a world record holder growing up, I had no idea,” he said. “So all I’ll say now is, if you work hard, that anything is possible.”
Published in Dawn, August 3rd, 2017