Let us agree on one point straightaway – Usain Bolt is the greatest athlete of all time. Period. No debates. No quarrels.
Of course, the story of the fabulous deeds of this Jamaican athlete has been told many times over by now. It certainly will be retold again and again in the future as well: the quality of his lightning strides with which he bolted down the track – both in the straight and around the bend – being such a joy to behold.
Bolt first marked himself as a track prodigy at the 2002 world junior championships on home soil as he struck gold in the 200m to become, at 15, the youngest-ever male champion in any event. Prior to taking to the track, he was more interested in cricket, donning his team colours as a fast bowler, and he kept himself abreast of the fortunes of his two favourite clubs in the European football leagues, Real Madrid and Manchester United, an interest he sustains even today.
The tall and lanky youngster, standing 6 feet and 5 inches tall, might have wrinkled the nose of many an analyst and observer, defying the conventional wisdom that such sprinters are often disadvantaged at the start. This was proved correct to a certain extent when the young Jamaican had a not-so-memorable debut at Athens 2004 (carrying a hamstring injury) and finished eighth and last in the 2005 world championships final.
It was thereafter that Bolt took to the 100m and, as they say, the rest is history. Armed with the perfect concoction of attributes – speed, swagger and a never-say-die spirit – he was bound to rule the world. He did so at Beijing 2008, London 2012 and again at Rio 2016 even as the world stood agape.
Bolt struck gold not just in the 100m and 200m, but in the 400m relay all three times as well (though the Beijing crown has since been stripped because of a doping infraction by one of his teammates), ripping up everything in the sprinting manual as he emerged as the unabashed saviour of the sport in just a few seconds.
Bolt’s uncanny knack of opening up to celebrate his 100m and 200m victories in Beijing with over 20m to go might have made a mockery of the two Olympic flagship events, but no one is likely to begrudge him that as he came through on both occasions with a world record and that too by the widest margin ever recorded in the Games final of these two events. It was striking, almost shocking, in a wonderful way.
Belief is what they say makes a sprinter reign supreme. While his rivals looked to be focused with a stern and unflinching look, Bolt was just the opposite. He was playful, full of fun, with his antics often disguising the steely focus to win behind his smile and theatrics. Athletics was never the same after Bolt arrived, and he changed it for the better.