If Usain Bolt doesn’t have a change of heart, his three gold medals in the 2016 Olympic Games are his grande finale, and ending the most dominant era in the history of track & field when it comes to sprinting, sweeping the men’s 100, 200 and 4×100 meters for three consecutive Olympic games.
Since wowing the world in Beijing 2008, with setting three world records in the same meet, Bolt has been close to undefeated. Not perfect, but out of the three Olympic games and four World Championships, he missed out on just one gold medal in the three events he, along with the Jamaican relay team (different teammates each time), competed in each time. In Daegu 2011, the world championships, Bolt was disqualified in the 100 meters final for a false start, the first major disqualification since the IAAF changed the rules to “one strike and you’re out”. Yohan Blake of Jamaica won the race with a relatively slow 9.92.
Other than that? All Bolt. In Beijing 2008, in Berlin 2009 when he set new world records in the 100 and 200 meters, and coming so close to breaking the 4×100 record he and the team set a year earlier. In Daegu 2011, in London 2012, in Moscow 2013, in Beijing 2015 and now in London 2016. Along with Blake, Michael Frater and Nesta Carter, he would break the 4×100 record in London 2012, after already breaking it in Daegu a year earlier.
Bolt is one of those athletes who transcend their sports. Athletics gets its moment once every two years, more or less, in the Olympics and the World Championships. But Bolt is a superstar on the same level of NBA stars and footballers. It’s his dominance which helps him be so recognizable, but it also comes from his personality. Some people are rock stars regardless of their achievements. Bolt blends excellence and charisma better than anyone. Some say, that with all the allegations, scandals, doping and what not surrounding Athletics, Bolt sweeping the gold medals in men’s sprinting was like a breath of fresh air to the sport. It kept Justin Gatlin from winning his second Olympic gold, and actually beating him in the 100 seems to have eaten up all the energy Gatlin had left.
But perhaps it’s good that Bolt is leaving for good. With him, the only mystery left was whether he was going to break a world record or not and frankly, it’s been gone for the last four years. It was all about the three golds this time. At 30, Bolt was no longer capable of reaching 9.58 in the 100, 19.19 in the 200, or coming close to the 36.84 from London 2012. And if a sport doesn’t have parity, and doesn’t have the chance of seeing something amazing happen, it’s not at its best.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Bolt, even without the records, even without anyone coming close to knocking him off his perch, is a blessing on the sport, and the longer he stays, the better. However, the drama seeped out of his performances in the last few years. The fastest man alive made everything a little bit boring at some point, and while the speeds he reached may never be reached again by anyone, opening up one spot on the podium could help the sport, even if his initial departure presents a serious blow to athletics.