Annie Paul | Life after Bolt
The thing about legends is that despite coming to an end, they abide for eternity. The legend Jamaica bequeathed the world, Usain Bolt, had always wanted to retire after the Rio Olympics in 2016, but fans, and perhaps sponsors, pressured him into staying on for one more year. Unfortunately, this led to his going out in a trail of loss and injury rather than a blaze of glory at the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London.
Usain Bolt's loss to Justin Gatlin in the 100m final had a devastating effect on all concerned. The ripple effect seemed to incapacitate the rest of the Jamaican team, with few exceptions (Thank you, Omar McLeod!). The shock of seeing the seemingly hamstrung sprinting superpower decline so rapidly was the subject of much comment globally, but nowhere was it felt as severely as here at home in Jamaica, where if you're below the age of 10, you've never seen Usain lose at a major championship, let alone come home with only a bronze medal.
Used to returning with half a dozen gold medals and more, the Jamaican team seemed to descend into anarchy by the end of the competition. On the last day, the women's 4x400 relay team made a last-minute substitution after two runners got into an argument that became physical. Needless to say, they weren't able to deliver, not even finishing the race after the substitute runner pulled a muscle in the second leg of the relay. "Murphy and his law were in charge of our team, " tweeted Dionne Jackson-Miller gloomily.
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Jamaica's champion 100m runner for the last decade, posted an upbeat Facebook message addressed to Usain that's worth repeating here:
"When one door closes, another one opens. It's the end of great careers, not the end of your lives. Here's to chasing new dreams and opportunities outside of athletics. #London2017" Shelly-Ann had already shown the way by deciding to have a baby instead of spending this year running. Her son, Zyon, was born right in the middle of the London World Championships.
On Twitter, the hashtag #BOLTDOWN made an appearance, gathering many expressions of support for
the celebrated runner. @JIPPY__JACK: You're remembered for how you lived and not for how you died. @LokeshSathe: Farewell legend #UsainBolt. The man with 3 world records, 9 Olympic golds and countless victories. Greatest sprinter of all time #boltdown.
One day Bolt had to show he was humantotal thanks).
While the London World Championships was going on, in Charlottesville, Virginia, racially motivated conflict was escalating. Quipped @MaanvirMinhas: Both America n Bolt are having a challenging time managing their RACES. #Charlottesville #USAINBOLT #BOLTDOWN #AmericanTaliban #Virginia
What can we learn from the fiasco (for Jamaica) of London 2017? Having achieved the peaks of athletic achievement beyond any reasonable doubt, did Bolt lose his desire for total dominance? With that hunger gone, was it difficult to put in the training required to stay on top? Why climb Mt Everest over and over again? We forget that remaining competitive requires continuous training and hard work and talent, and a track record of winning aren't enough, no matter what field you're in.
Needed a break
Usain had made it clear he needed a break from almost two decades of non-stop training and competition. We should have listened. He had earned the right to retire and pursue other passions. We should not have forced him to face his defeat on a global stage by runners hungrier than him. He had so often talked of how he hated to lose.
The passing of the baton to his successors was important to Bolt, and he was heartbroken that he couldn't achieve this in the last race of his career. Our punishment was seeing the normally ebullient, playful, unsinkable Bolt subdued and sober as he made his final round of the stadium in London, clearly pained by his failure on the track.
Unlike Bolt, who was eager to pass on the baton, there are many in the real world who refuse to retire when their time comes. They are like relay runners refusing to yield the baton when it's time to do so, clutching it to their bosoms instead and clumsily waddling along (because, of course, they're not in shape any longer, their expiration date having passed a long time ago), their aged, tired, low-performing selves making a mockery of the idea of a modern meritocracy where the fittest person wins the prize, whatever that may be.
- Annie Paul is a writer and critic based at the University of the West Indies and author of the blog, Active Voice (anniepaul.net). Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @anniepaul.