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September 01, 2017 Friday 11:20:14 AM IST

Get, set, BOLT

Sports & Games

August 2009 was a super month in the annals of world athletics. August 16, the second day of the 12th IAAF world championships, 21:35 in the evening: the time was frozen for fractions of a second. Usain Bolt, a young Jamaican, stunned the world with a magical 9.58 seconds for 100 metres, with pundits claiming it to be at least 20 years ahead of time.


August 20 at 20:35: 200 m final: Wearing chest No. 656 and running on lane No. 5, the young man burst into an unbelievable dash to the finish line in 19.19 seconds. This time he shaved off 0.11 second from his own world record of 19.30 seconds set in Beijing the previous year.


The 100 m sprint is the most prestigious event in any international athletics meet. The competitors go all out with explosive power, dazzling speed and utmost concentration. For the same reason preparation for a race and physical fitness are very important. Since the winner is separated from the rest by a small fraction of a second, the reaction to the starter’s gun is also crucial.


Usain St. Leo Bolt was born to Wellesley Bolt, who ran a grocery shop for livelihood, and Jennifer Bolt on August 21, 1986 in Jamaica. The small God-fearing Catholic family consisting of his parents and brother Sadiki Bolt and sister Sherine Bolt, though not rich, led a happy life with what they had.


His mother says: “Usain is an obedient child. He listens to us. Sometimes he did little things, as children do, but he did listen to us and we’re glad that he did.”


He had shown signs of a good sprinter in Waldensia Primary school by winning several 10 m and 20 m race contests. His interest was in cricket when he joined William Knibb Memorial High School. Noting his ability, the coach there asked him to switch to sprinting and he proved his mettle by winning sprint medals in school. Soon he came under the tutelage of Pablo McNeil, an Olympian athlete.


The World Junior Championships in 2002 in Kingston, Jamaica was a turning point in his life. In front of a vociferous home crowd he dished out a sterling performance to win the gold in 200 m. In the process, he became the youngest-ever world junior champion and also bagged IAAF’s Rising Star award of the year.


Bolt, by then, had earned the nickname of Lightning Bolt. The teenager was in Jamaican team for the 2004 Athens Olympics, but was eliminated in the first round itself. Once having tasted the glamour of the big stage, he worked hard patiently for three years and broke the national 200 m record held by compatriot and Olympics gold medallist Donald Quarrie for 30 years. His two silver medals in the world championship in Osaka, Japan, were to boost his confidence.


The flow of gold medals started in the Beijing Olympics in 2008. His 9.69 seconds was a world record in the 100 m and the 22-year-old added two more gold medals and world records in 200 m (19.30 s) and 4 x 100 relay (37.10 s).Three world records for a single athlete in a world meet was not heard of earlier. However, the relay gold was taken back as his teammate Nesta Carter was caught for doping later and the world record was cancelled.


But the Jamaicans with the help of Bolt shattered the world record again in 4 x 100 m relay in London in 2012 with an believing 36.84 seconds, which remains now.


After his 200 m victory, in an interview to BBC Sport, he said: “What else can I do to prove I am the greatest? I’m trying to be one of the greatest, to be among [Muhammad] Ali and Pele. I have made the sport exciting; I have made people want to see the sport. I have put the sport on a different level.”


World Athletics Championships:


Since then, it was Usain Bolt and his Jamaica who ruled the sprint events in the world championships until 2015. Bolt was the undisputed champion in 100 metres in the four championships from 2009 to 2015. In Berlin, he etched his name in world record book with a superb 9.58 seconds which still stands. The only aberration was the 2011 championship when he was disqualified for a false start.


In 200 metres, he never conceded his crown from 2009 to 2015. His four gold medals and one silver in the event is also a record. His world record of 19.19 had come in Berlin in 2009. Here, he erased his own world record of 19.30 set in Beijing Olympics.


He was to add four more gold medals for his country in relay in Berlin (2009), Daegu (2011), Moscow (2013) and Beijing (2015) championships, in the process creating world records of 37.04 at Daegu (2011) and then in the London Olympics in 2012 with a stupendous 36.84.


He had decided to retire after the 2017 London world championships. At Rio in Brazil, after winning his third Olympics gold in 200 m, he had said: “Somebody said I can become immortal. Two more medals to go and I can sign off. Immortal.” Maybe, because of the nagging injuries, he had opted out of his favorite 200 m in London 2017. He was sure of signing off in style after adding two more gold medals in the 100 m and 4 x 100 relay in London, his favorite hunting ground.


But misfortune was waiting for him. A slow start ditched him in 100 m and he had to content with a bronze, for the first time, in 9.95 seconds behind Americans Justin Gatlin (9.92) and Christian Coleman (9.94). Gatlin’s reaction to the gun was in 0.138 and Coleman’s 0.123 while Bolt had it in 0.183. If he had a good start he would have won gold in 9.91 seconds. “No regrets. I came out and did my best, I was always to end no matter what happened - win, lose or draw I was always going to walk away,’ said the 30-year-old after the event.


A terrible fate was awaiting him in the 4 x 100 m relay. Sportswriter Christopher Clarey’s report from London gives a clear picture: “After Bolt took the baton from his teammate Yohan Blake to run the anchor leg of Jamaica’s 4x400 metre men’s relay their team was in third place. In years past, that would have been a minor obstacle for Bolt, the greatest sprinter in history. This time, he began to gather speed, only to pull up and shout in pain from what appeared to be a left leg injury about 60 metres from the finish line.” He continued: “It was hardly the farewell party that Bolt had in mind when he decided to make this meet the final one of his career.”


Later, his teammate Yohan Blake and American Justin Gatlin criticised the organisers for the undue delay in starting the race. The long wait in the mixed zone in cold conditions had taken the toll. The Jamaican  team doctor Kevin Jones indicated later that Bolt had suffered acute muscle cramp in his left hamstring.


It still remains a mystery how a man of such a big frame of 1.95 metres and weighing 95 kg, suffering from scoliosis (a condition of curved spine) and a half-inch shorter right leg, could run fast and become world champion time and again. The only answer is determination and hard work, plus his simplicity and modesty. He had said once: “The impossible and possible lies in a determination.”


His 9 gold medals in Olympics and 11 gold, two silver and one bronze in world championships speak well of his quality and hard work. He has won the IAAF Athlete of the Year award for six times, Track & Field Athlete of the Year (2), Laureus Sportsman of the Year (4), BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year (3) and L’Equipe Champion of Champions (4).


The lover of football, cricket and music has published his autobiography: My Story: 9.58: Being the World’s Fastest Man, in 2010. A biographical film based on his athletic achievements titled I Am Bolt was to follow in 2016.


We will miss his signature pose of ‘Lightning Bolt’ in competitions in future. The fun-loving, friendly

and the ‘Bolt’ on track will live in our memory forever – that’s why he is immortal.

Francis Pulikoden

former Sports Editor of The New Indian Express

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