LONDON – Usain Bolt was to be honoured later Sunday during the final session of the world athletics championships – which gives the sport a chance to celebrate his extraordinary sprint career.
Fans had originally hoped that there would be one last lap of honour Saturday night after the 4×100-metre relay but that never came because Bolt failed to finish a big race for the first time in his storied career owing to a cramp in his left hamstring.
While the fans could at least delight in the gold of hosts Britain to celebrate, the greatest sprinter of all time left the sport for good through the back door, without a word and consoled by his team-mates.
Bolt left on his own feet as he spared himself and the world the sight and embarrassment of heading into retirement in a wheelchair brought onto the track by a volunteer.
Bolt, who turns 31 on August 21, must have been heartbroken that he couldn’t bid farewell to the stadium of adoring fans who had chanted his name before the start and millions more via television.
There was no final medal, no last ‘To the world’ gesture that had been his trademark since his breakthrough at the Beijing 2008 Olympics as he went on to rewrite the sprint books with five world records, 11 world titles and eight Olympic golds.
There was only a short post “Thank You my peeps. Infinite love for my fans” via Facebook and Twitter from Bolt.
“The Usain Bolt we carry in our hearts would have … engraved his legacy with one last thrilling victory. (But) Someone else showed up in his place – this Other Bolt who finished third in the 100 last week, then caught a cramp in the 4×100 and could not finish the race,” American broadcasters ESPN said.
Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung on Sunday was among those noting that “Bolt returns to mortal status” and the New York Times said “there was no final flourish for a man who has been not only one of global sport’s great athletes, but one of its great entertainers as well.”
Some like former 200m and 400m great Michael Johnson suggested that Bolt should have rather quit as originally planned last year after another title treble at the Rio Olympics where Bolt himself said he had now achieved legend status.
After all, Bolt suddenly appeared very human in London as he had to settle for 100m bronze, and a relay win was also unlikely before the cramp as he got the baton in third place behind the British and American team.
“I think it was just one season too many,” the BBC pundit Johnson said. “I think Bolt was prepared to not win but I don’t think he would have expected his last race to end like that. He would have wanted to cross the finish line.”
The Jamaicans at least in part blamed a long wait in the call room after several delays for Bolt’s misfortune, with Yohan Blake saying: “We keep warming up and waiting, then warming up and waiting. I think it got the better of us.”
But none of the other 35 runners cramped, and Jamaican team doctor Kevin Jones said “a lot of pain is from disappointment from losing the race.”
There was however consensus that the London days will not cast a shadow over Bolt’s glittering career.
“Usain Bolt’s name will always live on,” insisted relay team-member Omar McLeod, and long-time American rival Justin Gatlin, the 100m winner, agreed by saying: “He is still the best in the world.”
Athletics now faces a daunting task of finding a new face in difficult times, after Bolt almost single-handedly kept the sport in the headlines over the past decades amid waning interest and doping and corruption issues.
Bolt’s departure makes it even more important for the sport to take a good look at itself in every aspect, while Johnson warned that no one should start looking for ‘a new Bolt.’
“Usain Bolt is uniquely fit for the role he took on. He doesn’t try to be who he is. He just is what he is. Nobody can be him! Nobody can be Usain Bolt,” Johnson said.
“To say someone could be the next Usain Bolt is ridiculous.” dpa