Analysing the career of Usain Bolt

The career of the great Usain Bolt has come to an end after pulling up with cramp in the Men’s 4×100 metres relay at the 2017 International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships, meaning that Jamaica failed to finish the event, an event which Jamaica has won at the previous four world championships (2009, 2011, 2013, and 2015)

However, in a career in which Bolt has won eight Olympic gold medals, 11 world championship gold medals, a total of 14 world championship medals overall, as well as breaking the Men’s 100 metres world record three times, and the Men’s 200 metres world record two times.

Personal bests of 9.58 seconds over the 100 metres, and 19.19 seconds over the 200 metres, both world records set at the Olympiastadion at the 2009 IAAF World Championships in Berlin, records that will likely stand the test of time.

So, what made Bolt such a great sprinter and a giant of world athletics?

First of all, he was a natural talent from an early age, and became the first junior athlete (under the age of 20) to go under the 20 second barrier in the 200 metres, setting a time of 19.93 seconds, which is still the world junior record, at the 2004 CARIFTA Games in Hamilton in Bermuda back when he was just 17 years old.

However, despite his obvious ability, Bolt’s body let him down, missing the 2004 World Junior Championships due to a hamstring injury, and while Jamaica showed faith in him, selecting him in their team for the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Bolt was unable to deliver to his best, failing to get past the opening round of the Men’s 200 metres after being troubled by a leg injury.

And, despite changing coach to his long term mentor in Glen Mills, who fostered a more professional approach to training, preparation, and performance, injuries still continued to affect Bolt, finishing eighth in the final of the Men’s 200 metres at the 2005 IAAF World Championships in Helsinki after pulling a muscle with about 50 metres to go in the race, and missed the 2006 Commonwealth Games, which were held in Melbourne, due to more hamstring problems.

This delayed a greater focus towards the 400 metres, something which Bolt wasn’t keen on, wanting to focus more on sprinting.

However, in 2007, the hard work and dedication of Bolt and his coach Mills started to show fruit, finishing second behind Tyson Gay in the Men’s 200 metres at the 2007 IAAF World Championships, and helping Jamaica finish second in the Men’s 4×100 metres relay.

Late in 2007, Bolt started to run the 100 metres, and by the end of May in 2008, he had the Men’s 100 metres world record, running a time 9.72 seconds in New York City in just his fifth 100 metres race at the senior level.

He then went onto break the 100 metres world record a further two times (Beijing 2008, Berlin 2009), and the 200 metres world record twice (Beijing 2008, Berlin 2009) as he took the world by storm, and the sport of athletics to a whole new level.

During his peak years in the sport, from 2008 to 2016, Usain Bolt won nearly every world championship and Olympic Games event over 100 and 200 metres, and helped Jamaica win every Men’s 4×100 metres relay, and excluding Nesta Carter testing positive to a banned stimulant, meaning that Jamaica were stripped of the title they won in Beijing in 2008, the only time during this period that Bolt didn’t win gold at a major championship (Olympic Games, or World Championships) was in the Men’s 100 metres at the 2011 IAAF World Championships in Daegu, when he was disqualified for a false start.

Although he had some great starts, especially in his world record performances, slow starts in the career of the great Jamaican were common, and made him more vulnerable over the 100 metres than the 200 metres. Over the 200 metres, Bolt’s big, strong, and powerful frame, combined with his development over those formative years leading up to 2008, has helped him run the bend at the start of a 200 metres race, thus his weakness at the starts wasn’t really exposed in the 200 metres.

Contrary to popular opinion, the 200 metres was always Bolt’s preferred event, the event that he felt most comfortable at, and the one he felt he would have the most success at as his slow starts had less of an impact on the result due to having to run the bend at the start of the race, and at the peak of his powers, no one had a chance against him over 200 metres.

The 100 metres was a different story though, because it was run on a straight, giving a sizeable advantage to the shorter, smaller, lower to the ground athletes in regards to the start, meaning Bolt was often trailing his rivals in the first 50 metres of a race. However, in the back-end of 100 metres, the fitness and strength of focussing on the 200 metres really helped him mow down his rivals to often beat them by a larger margin than is sometimes hard to comprehend, masking the issues he has had in terms of the starts.

However, Bolt has felt the pressure of wanting to get a great start, and lead from start to finish, especially when he felt he wasn’t in his best form as seen in Daegu in 2011, and competing against an in-form upstart in fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake.

So, how many times has Usain Bolt false-started?

Twice!

Yes, only twice, but he has only been disqualified once for a false-start, as I mentioned before!

The other time he false-started was back at the 2009 IAAF World Championships in Berlin in the semi-finals of the Men’s 100 metres, but was given a second chance because of the rules of the time from between 2003 and 2009, where in the instance of the first false start, the whole field would be warned, and only disqualifications would happen in further instances of false starts within the same race or heat.

Incidentally, British athlete Tyrone Edgar was disqualified in that same semi-final after he caused a second false start.

However, in 2017, Bolt could no longer hide his slow starts, he decided not to run in the Men’s 200 metres at the IAAF World Championships, which meant his fitness, strength and conditioning wasn’t up to his previous standard, which may have caused the cramping issue in the Men’s 4×100 metres relay final, and subsequently meant that the edge, those extra two tenths of a second, that he had previously was no longer there.

He was back with the field, and unsurprisingly, he was beaten!

In hindsight, Bolt should have decided to run the Men’s 200 metres, instead of the Men’s 100 metres, if he was going to compete in just one individual event, but the desire to train and do the hard work to compete in the 200 metres wasn’t there anymore.

He just wanted to entertain for one last time, and although it didn’t work out this time, he has left a catalogue of memories, and an indelible legacy that will last forever.

Thank You Usain! Thank You for all the wonderful memories that you have given many people from all over the world, either at the venues you have competed at, or watching your races on their televisions! We wish you all the best in the next chapter of your life!

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My thoughts on Usain Bolt, his loss, his glittering career, and his rival Justin Gatlin

I felt before the 2017 International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships that regardless of how Usain Bolt performed at these world championships, his final time on the world stage, that he would be remembered as the greatest sprinter we have ever seen, as well as arguably the greatest athlete, across any sport, of all time.

And despite him finishing third in the final of the Men’s 100 metres, that is the way I feel about Bolt, and will probably always feel about him.

I watched every round of the Men’s 100 metres competition, and after watching the heats, I felt that Bolt looked the best, but I also felt that the Americans of Christian Coleman and Justin Gatlin also looked good, with Coleman in my view looking slightly better than Gatlin. However, Bolt wasn’t really that happy with his performance, and with the starting blocks, stating to many media outlets that they were the worst starting blocks in his career, and that it didn’t give him the stability that he needed. Maybe that was the sign of things to come?

In the semi-finals, Bolt (9.98 seconds) was beaten in the third semi-final by Coleman (9.97 seconds) by 0.01 seconds, but was still the second-fastest time overall in the semi-finals. Conversely, Gatlin finished second in the first semi-final in a time of 10.09 seconds, the equal sixth-fastest time in the semi-finals. However, a couple of hours, Gatlin showed the world that he had more in tank to take the coveted title, and get his revenge, not so much on Bolt, but more so on the general public who he believed had treated him so badly in his comeback from doping suspensions.

In the final, Coleman got a great start, Bolt a not so good one, and Gatlin somewhere in between. Both Bolt and Gatlin started to come back in the back half of the race, but with around 30 to 40 metres left in the race, I knew Bolt was in trouble!

He didn’t have the extra spring in the legs anyone, those extra two tenths of a second which he always had to defeat the opposition. Bolt didn’t come with the charge that we have all seen for the best part of a decade, Gatlin was getting closer to Coleman, who was starting to shorten stride, losing his form, and Gatlin swamped in over the top to become the world champion.

As soon as they crossed the finishing line, I knew Gatlin (9.92 seconds) had won, and I knew Bolt (9.95 seconds) had been beaten! I knew Gatlin had won well before the commentators at the stadium knew, who were all thinking that Coleman (9.94 seconds) had won! Yes, Coleman had beaten Bolt, but he did not win! He did not defeat his fellow American, and I knew when the result flashed-up on the big screen that the crowd weren’t going to like the result one little bit.

And the response? A chorus of boos, as Gatlin, at the age of 35, had silenced the critics and taken a famous victory, adding another world championship gold medal to the two (100m, and 200m) that he won in Helsinki in 2005, as well as the Olympic Games gold medal he won in Athens in 2004.

Bolt was gracious in defeat, a response which typified the great man and the great champion that he has been, but a lot of the discussion in the post-mortem after the Men’s 100 metres final was whether Justin Gatlin should have been there in the first place?

Back in 2001, Gatlin tested positive to amphetamines, and was subsequently banned from international competition for a period of two years. However, Gatlin appealed on the grounds that he had been taking amphetamines to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and that explanation meant Gatlin received a reduced suspension, and he was able to return to competition in 2002.

However, Gatlin tested positive to a banned substance for the second time in his career in 2006, this time for testosterone, or other prohibited substances, and received an eight year ban, reduced from a life ban after Gatlin co-operated fully with authorities. He then appealed the ban handed to him, and got it reduced to four years, meaning he was able to return to competition in 2010.

In this debate of whether Gatlin should have been allowed to return to the sport of athletics, it should be noted that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in 2004 first adopted ‘The International Standard for Therapeutic Use Exemptions’, which then came into effect on the 1st January, 2005.

Without exploring this topic deeply to find out for sure, it seems like Gatlin’s doping case back in 2001, probably among some other doping cases, is probably one of the reasons why WADA introduced Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs), so that serious medical conditions could be treated without penalty to the athlete in question, and I would not be surprised that Gatlin may still take some form of medication to treat his ADHD, and has been allowed to take it under the Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) clause.

However, I think Gatlin should come out publicly, whenever he is ready, and talk about this topic in detail in relation to himself to help clear up a few perceptions people have about him, which I think would help him gain back some ground in the popularity stakes.

However, the second positive drugs test was a bad one, an awful mistake by someone who at that stage of his career had been at the top of the sport for long enough to know better, and he arguably wasted the prime years of his career.

In saying this though, I think four years was enough of a ban for that doping offence, and I believe he deserved to be there, and thus deserved to win world championship gold due to his performance in becoming the oldest man to win the 100 metres crown in world championship history.

What an achievement!

As is the career of Usain Bolt, who will ultimately be remembered as the greatest personality the sport of athletics has ever had, and will likely ever have. Let’s savour the final time he will compete at international level, the Men’s 4×100 metres relay for Jamaica, Saturday night British time (Sunday morning Australian time), assuming the team qualifies for the final, and enjoy for one last time the greatest man athletics has ever had!

2017 IAAF World Athletics Championships – Preview

The 2017 International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships begins on Saturday morning Australian time (Friday night British time) from London Stadium, the main stadium of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, and it is set to be a fascinating world championships in so many ways, with the return of Sally Pearson sparking interest from an Australian point of view, but most notably, it will be the last meets on the world stage for Usain Bolt and Mohamed Farah.

In terms of the biggest storylines in the men’s events is the last appearance on the world stage of the eight-time Olympic champion and 11-time world champion, the great Usain Bolt. The fastest man in history over both the 100 metres and the 200 metres will be competing in just one individual event at these world championships, the Men’s 100 metres.

Bolt will face some stiff competition with 19 competitors (including Bolt) having a personal best time of under 10 seconds, and 11 competitors (including Bolt) have achieved a season’s best time of under 10 seconds, including the likes of Julian Forte, Chijindu Ujah, Ben Youssef Meïté, Jimmy Vicaut, Thando Roto, Justin Gatlin, Christopher Belcher, Akani Simbine, Yohan Blake, an event he won himself in 2011 in Daegu after Bolt’s disqualification for a false start, and Christian Coleman, who has run the fastest time in 2017 (9.82 seconds), the only athlete under 9.90 seconds in 2017, and will be competing in an individual event for the first time at a world championships or Olympic Games after being involved with the United States of America (USA) Men’s 4×100 metres heats in Rio de Janeiro.

Talking about Bolt’s former pet event, fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake will be looking to fly the flag for the Caribbean nation in the Men’s 200 metres, but the second-fastest man in history over 200 metres will face some strong competition from Jereem Richards, Akani Simbine, Wayde Van Niekerk, and Isaac Makwala, who along with Blake are the only runners in 2017 to run under 20 seconds. Overall, talking about the Men’s 200 metres, there are 17 competitors who will be competing in the Men’s 200 metres at the world championships that have personal best times under the 20 second barrier.

Talking about Van Niekerk and Makwala, they will be taking on each other in the Men’s 400 metres. Van Niekerk broke Michael Johnson’s world record in Rio de Janeiro, a record which lasted for 17 years, by defeating two Olympic champions in Kirani James and LaShawn Merritt to win the Olympic Games gold medal, and while Merritt (although not in his best form) will be in London, James won’t be as he is still recovering from an illness. American Fred Kerley will be a big challenger to Van Niekerk, Makwala, and Merritt in London at his first world championships.

The biggest headline from a British point of view, and a storyline I am looking forward to the most at the 2017 IAAF World Championships is Mohamed Farah. The four-time Olympic gold medallist and five-time world champion is competing for the last time on the world stage, and he appears to be a heavy favourite in the Men’s 10,000 metres, and a strong challenger in the Men’s 5,000 metres, where he will be looking to end his career on a high in front of his home crowd.

 

The big storylines I am looking forward to in the women’s events is the battles in the sprinting, and shorter middle-distance events.

The Women’s 100 metres is a crack field with 13 competitors having personal best times under 11 seconds, and nine setting times under 11 seconds in 2017, including Blessing Okagbare, Morolake Akinosun, Dafne Schippers, Marie-Josée Ta Lou, Tori Bowie, Kelly-Ann Baptiste, Murielle Ahouré, Michelle-Lee Ahye, and Elaine Thompson, who won the 100/200 metres double in Rio de Janeiro, but will only race in the 100 metres in London.

The Women’s 200 metres is to be a battle between Tori Bowie, Shaunae Miller-Uibo, who are the only competitors under 22 seconds this year, but I wouldn’t rule out Dafne Schippers, the only other runner in this field to run under 22 seconds in their career, and the defending champion in this event.

The Women’s 400 metres is a very competitive field, with nine athletes having personal bests of under 50 seconds, and four have run under 50 seconds this year, including Phyllis Francis, Shaunae Miller-Uibo, Quanera Hayes, and Allyson Felix.

I am intrigued to see how Caster Semenya, the Olympic champion and the fastest in the world this year over 800 metres, goes in the Women’s 800 metres in a very strong field, and I am expecting Semenya to face tough competition in the form of Francine Niyonsaba, and Ajee Wilson.

However, the women’s event I am looking forward to watching the most during the 2017 IAAF World Championships is the Women’s 100 metres hurdles, featuring the return of Sally Pearson to the world stage.

The Australian, who won the Olympic gold medal in 2012 in London, and the world championship in 2011 in Daegu, missed the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing due to a broken wrist, and the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro due to a hamstring tear, but has been back close to her very best in 2017, recording the second-fastest time of the year, a run of 12.48 seconds.

However, Pearson will have to left her game to a whole new level against the world record holder Kendra Harrison. Harrison, who failed to qualify for last year’s Olympics, and then broke the world record, a time of 12.20 seconds, a couple of weeks later in London will surely be the one to beat, and unsurprisingly comes into the world championships with the fastest time this year, a time of 12.28 seconds, the same time that Pearson won the 100 metres hurdles at the 2011 IAAF World Championships in Daegu.

While it is impossible in such a short period of time to run my eye over every single event, I am looking forward to watching every single event at the 2017 IAAF World Championships, and I think we may see the unearthing of a new world superstar over the next week.