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By Morak Babajide-Alabi
A few days before the start of the 2017 International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships that ends in London, United Kingdom today, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) showed the documentary – “I Am Bolt”. As you might have guessed, it is a film about Usain Bolt, the Jamaican 100-metres world champion. Apart from showcasing this great athlete, the screening on British TV was also a strategic build up to the start of the London event, the highlight of which is Bolt’s last individual competitive race.
This documentary has been around for some time, but I never had the time to watch it. So when the BBC waved an opportunity in my face, I went for it, got myself some popcorn and sat in a comfy sofa in my living room to watch the one hour 28 minutes film. BBC had advertised it as a “captivating documentary profiling Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, the fastest man in history and one of the greatest Olympians of all time…” As I sat through the documentary, I could not help but marvel at the remarkable journey of this young man who rose from the back streets of Jamaica to become the fastest man on earth.
Most times we are often told how great stars are discovered and polished to become whatever they had turned out to be. In this documentary, however, we saw it was not only about the discovery of Bolt, but also his belief in his own abilities, hard work, and the gruelling daily regime he had to go through. By the time I was through I fell in love all over again with this man who ran himself into “legends’” books as one of the greatest athletes of this generation.
The world loves Bolt. We all love him. We have been following his career since he came on our radar. And like every prized possession, we have held on to him. Bolt always comes across as a lovely, likeable and focussed gentleman, and the world believes he is genuine. He is among the few individuals in sports, music, fashion, etc who are not tainted by any scandal – drug, financial, social or marital shenanigans. Bolt brought more respect to his sports than any other athlete has done in recent times. With a long list of drug cheats parading in the track circuits, and some of them caught right, left and centre, athletics was at its lowest ebb.
At a point in the sports’ history, notable names were either banned or suspended for pushing the boundaries to excel with power drugs. No one could vouch for any of the athletes in an era where energy enhancing drugs and “shakes” were the main courses on the “menus” of many athletes. It was therefore natural that as Bolt progressed in his career; we waited with bated breath year in, year out to hear the news that he had been “dosing” himself seriously on cocktail of banned drugs to keep pace with his ambition.
Obviously, this never happened. As a result, our respect for this gentleman escalated. Not only has he managed a scandal free reign as the fastest man, he has also brought glamour back into the game. He became a champion that gives the crowd more than what they paid for. The laps of honour became more interesting and pleasing to watch. His signature salute, “Lighting Bolt”, known all over the world, became one of success identity. Interestingly, many world leaders, captains of industries, common men and women on the streets have identified with the salute.
Bolt has always been the main attraction at athletics events all over the world. Although he represents his native country Jamaica we often overlook this fact and instead see him as representative of the world. Everyone in various stadia cheer him ignoring the colour of his vests or the fact that the name Jamaica is boldly written. We just could not stop loving Bolt.
The city of London seems to love Bolt more, though. There is something about the relationship between Bolt and Londoners that is just unexplainable. No other city displays as much love to the eight-time Olympic champion, as residents fill the stadium in thousands to cheer him every time he participates in a race here. The support for him at the London Olympics was phenomenal. Bolt became the adopted citizen of Great Britain. He lit the venue like no other athlete in that year. At the back of this, Bolt made his way into our living rooms as he began to appear in television advertisements and billboards. British companies were falling over themselves to sign him on for commercial endorsements. The athlete could feel the warmth from the city and he has latched on to it, commercially and otherwise.
Naturally, the world was heartbroken that Bolt would retire after the 2016 Olympics. So we headed to Rio with big expectations and to also be part of history to see the best and final of the fastest man in the world. He did not disappoint as he comfortably strolled to the finishing line to win the gold medal for the 100-metres event. He was also a part of the Jamaican team that won the 4×100 metres relay final. Bolt was denied the honour of doing the “triple, triple” – the hat-trick of 100m, 200m and 4x100m victories in Olympic Games as his 2008 Beijing Olympics’ 4×100 metres relay final gold medal was taken off him when his team mate Nesta Carter failed a drug retest.
London, two Saturdays ago, was meant to be a big exit for Bolt. A few weeks before the London meet, he made a podium bow at the last race in his home country. But it did not come out as planned for the London exit, as Bolt got tangled in the curtains. While Bolt was limping his way to an end of a glorious and rewarding career, his competitors “sharpened” their skills and pushed themselves really hard to deny him the podium victory. Like a bolt from the blues his reign as the fastest man on earth came to a bronze end at the venue where he is regarded as infallible.
Bolt must have had all planned in his head. To retire on the wave of praises and accolades, and do the final lap of honour. Every champion wants to leave the stage when the ovation is loudest. Usain is human. He probably had rehearsed how he would answer questions from the media and dreamt of a top podium finish, bowing to collect a brand new shining gold medal to add to his collection.
Bolt pushed himself, but he just couldn’t do. It was shocking to the crowd but rather than cry over spilt milk, they decided to celebrate the athlete. The cheers that went out in the venue were not for the Gold or Silver winners but for the guy that got the bronze medal. The athletics world will miss Bolt, the fans will miss him and it will be quite some time before another showman will emerge in the mould of an athlete. Nothing would diminish the status of Bolt in our eyes. He is still the greatest.
As published in the Sunday Vanguard of August 13th, 2017.