Usain Bolt: a legend on and off the track, but maybe not on the football pitch

‘It was fun while it lasted’ commented Usain Bolt in his typically playful manner, as he called time on his sporting career, a year after swapping his spikes for studs and embarking on a short-lived football adventure.

In spite of a career on the pitch mirrored only by Ali Dia, Bolt’s illustrious sprinting career means that he will be considered one of the greatest sportsmen to have ever lived.

Since bursting onto the global scene at the Beijing in 2008, Bolt’s ability on the track and bubbly personality off it meant he has become the face of athletics and one of the most recognisable figures in global sport.

Bolt changed the perception of what a sprinter should be.

He caught the attention of not just athletics fans but all sporting fans in the Birds Nest Stadium when he celebrated his 100m victory with twenty meters to go.

He was quickly branded arrogant by the global media, but they soon came to realise he could back this self-confidence up.

His world record of 9.69 seconds, despite clearly easing up towards the finish marked the start of Bolt’s dominance of the sprinting world for the best part of a decade.

Experts estimated Bolt’s time could have been as quick as 9.51 seconds had he not slowed down, but that did not matter, he had the first of his nine Olympic gold medals and Usain Bolt became a household name overnight.

2009, however, would be the pinnacle of Bolt’s career. He went into the World Championships in Berlin as a firm favourite for all three sprinting events and rightly so.

Bolt eclipsed both his own world records by over a tenth of a second each, running 9.58 seconds in the 100m and 19.19 seconds in the 200m.

He completed his treble at the Championships, winning the 4x100m relay with the Jamaican team, running the second-fastest time in history, bettered only by their own world record set in Beijing the previous year.

Recovering from his disqualification for a false start in the 100m final at the 2011 World Championships, Bolt would go on to win the 200m and 4x100m at the same event whilst picking up his fourth Olympic gold medal in London, running the second fastest time in history of 9.63 seconds.

The 2017 World Championships would be Bolt’s last appearance on the track, winning bronze in the 100m, the first time he had lost a major sprinting event since 2007.

This marked the end of the ‘Bolt era’ of dominance over the sport. In a decade his rivals Asafa Powell, Tyson Gay, Yohan Blake and most recently Justin Gatlin all tried to get the best of him, but couldn’t.

Bolt changed the perception of what a sprinter should be. Since the days of Jesse Owens in the 1930s, it was assumed a sprinter must be short, compact and quick off the blocks, as all world record holders had been.

His sheer size meant that although he may be behind after 30m, he would sure be ahead by 70. No one could match Bolt’s ground speed and when he was in full flow it was beautiful to watch, as he left the rest of the field in his wake.

Usain Bolt became a household name overnight

It is clear that looking back over Bolt’s illustrious sprinting career, his two appearances for Central Coast Mariners in the A-League will be a mere footnote in the career of the 21st century’s greatest sportsman.

A global icon, Bolt will certainly be mentioned in the same breath as the Peles, Muhammad Alis, and Michael Jordans of the world.

That was assured long before his footballing career began.

Bolt’s records will surely stand for decades to come, a legend on and off the track, he will be remembered as a global icon, and the man who single-handedly carried athletics for over a decade.

Photograph: Nick Webb via Flickr

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