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?
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!