Note: This post was first published on my Medium page on August 12, 2017.
As it was in the beginning, so it was in the end.
Usain St Leo Bolt, who began his senior athletics career at the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki, Finland with an injury and a last place finish as he limped across the line, also ended his glorious journey limping off the track — this time unable to finish the race, felled by a hamstring pull.
His teammates on the 4x100m relay squad, the rest of the athletes in the camp, and Jamaicans the world over are utterly devastated. This is not how we wanted the big man’s career to end, with a whimper instead of a bang. This was not it at all. But such is life, isn’t it? He is human, despite a decade of headlines likening him to machines and beings from outer space. One hundred per cent human, and his body just had about enough. Age and time catch up to us all, eventually.
I won’t join those questioning whether he should have bowed out after his exploits in Rio at last year’s Olympics. A man deserves to decide for himself when it is over. He knows his body better than any of us, and felt he could’ve handled two events, prudently avoiding the 200m — his favourite — the one he could never stand to lose.
And I certainly will not entertain the thought that he has somehow sullied his great legacy with these performances in London. Please, let us not traffic in the ridiculous. Take a look at the man’s long list of gold medals and world records, dating back to when he was a 15-year-old schoolboy. Do you know he still has records from his junior career that stand to this day?
I have been writing about Usain’s status as a legend since 2012, when many thought applying that label to him was premature — and even presumptuous. It wasn’t out of order then, and it certainly isn’t so today. I think I’ve exhausted all the plaudits I could lay at his feet, so I just want to take this opportunity to say to Usain Bolt, thank you:
Thank you for that day when you whipped the whole National Stadium and all of Jamaica into a frenzy by winning your first ever global title — on home soil, no less. You showed us the first flash of your impending greatness then, which would become a lightning bolt in just a few years. That light you shone revealed to many of our current crop of athletes the reality that yes, they could do the same, too.
Thank you for proving to Jamaicans that greatness is in us, and we don’t always have to go to foreign to seek it or to bring it to the fore. We’d lost the services of too many of our promising ISSA Champs stars to burnout in the US college system over the years, and your sparkling success was instrumental in bucking that trend. You’re 100 per cent home-grown and home-nurtured talent, and it makes us proud. Yes, some of our junior athletes will have to go abroad, where many of them do excel, but seeing you flourish—and others in your cohort like Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Asafa Powell and Melaine Walker — gives many the option to stay.
Thank you for Beijing 2008, when you delivered on your great promise by setting the Bird’s Nest stadium on fire with three world records. We’ll never forget the “showbolting” in the 100m final, the purely Jamaican bravado as you started beating your chest with a good 30 or so metres to go. Your shoelaces were untied, but no one even knew that until an ad came out, and then it became part of your lore. That first 200m world record did sweet, nuh true? That gold medal is the one you had wanted above all, and to earn it in such fine style was just icing on the cake. We won’t talk about the relay. For reasons.
Thank you for Berlin 2009, when you made those 2008 records look like Sunday afternoon strolls in a botanical garden. Who even thought those times were humanly possible? Surely not us fans, who were left with our jaws on the ground thrice again. That 200m final, just you against the clock… Man! I still get goosebumps even thinking about it. Truly legendary, sir.
Thank you for Daegu 2011, where you showed us how to recover from a stumble. None of us wanted what happened to happen, but no great story is complete without some struggles, and we know you’ve had your fair share. We loved watching you bounce back.
Thank you for London 2012, where you defended all your Olympic crowns and started accepting the title of “legend” that had already been bestowed upon you. It was already yours, but you had your own parameters. That’s the London experience we’ll keep going back to for years and years to come.
Thank you for each subsequent victory, each subsequent milestone, because Jamaica’s children are watching, and in you, they see the greatness that lies within themselves. You have inspired so many, and not just in athletics.
Thanks also for giving back to our student athletes in tangible ways. Many of them do not have the resources to develop their talents, and your sending the ladder of success back down to help bring them up is what true greatness looks like.
I want to also thank you for your spirit. You brought joy and levity to a dying sport. It was on life support, and you gave it a jolt so it could wow us again. And to top it off, you’ve been so gracious. The respect you have displayed for the sport, your teammates—even your rivals and would be successors is truly admirable.
Thank you for helping to lift up Jamaica, not just in flying our flag in the sporting arena, but creating opportunities here for your fellow citizens. Those international ads that I’m sure the teams wanted to do in their nice first world environments, you insisted be filmed here, with local crews. You didn’t have to do that. But you are a man with a vision, and not just for yourself.
So even though your final chapter in the sport didn’t go according to your plan, there is absolutely no shame in your game. You have done the impossible, and you have done it more than once. You have created a legacy that goes beyond your sport, and the world will never forget you. Your name will be up there in the international sporting hall of fame, alongside the likes of Ali, Jordan, Pele. Years from now — and I hope that’s at least a decade away — when someone else holds the world records, your name will still be called, just like these other greats I’ve mentioned.
We’re all disappointed for you, but we know that you are strong and you will not allow the events of these championships to keep your spirits down. You have proven your mental strength time and time again. Life is about seasons and cycles, and you have seen them all. This was the winter of your career, and indeed, everything has come full circle. When you ran your last race at home, you repeated the time you did when you won your first ever 100m race — 10.03 seconds. Now it’s time for you to focus on what happens next. We don’t know what that will be, but I foresee you still playing a part in athletics, at least as an official ambassador of the sport. But that’s all in your time, for you to decide.
One thing I will urge you to do, though, is to write another book. This time, in collaboration with your coach, the maestro Glen Mills. I, for one, would love to read about just how you did all that you did, from a mental/psychological standpoint. You had to overcome such a tricky transitional season, and not many athletes would’ve come through unscathed, and with their sense of joy and fun still intact. You gentlemen could teach a course. I guarantee it will be oversubscribed. (Oh, and I can ghostwrite the book. Just putting that out there. It’d be my honour.)
We were blessed to have lived in the era of the great Usain St Leo Bolt, to see firsthand what transcendence looks like personified. As you hang up your spikes, we say thank you, and wish you nothing but the best in all your future endeavours. I don’t think you’re capable of anything less than excellence, and there’s still more greatness ahead of you, in whatever you choose to do.