Mon | Jan 22, 2018

Letter of the Day | Perhaps the best yet to come for Bolt

Published:Saturday | September 3, 2016 | 12:00 AM


Usain Bolt is the fastest human in the world. But, is he the greatest athlete? What makes an athlete great? Is it the number of gold medals, dominance in the sport, breaking records? Is it based on some historical defining moments, for example, Roger Bannister's (the English middle-distance runner) running the first sub-four-minute mile in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics? Or does an athlete become great when he or she transcends the game, becoming bigger than the sport?

Take Muhammad Ali, who is regarded as one of the greatest athletes. Although Ali was three times world boxing champion and gold medalist, boxing aficionados will tell you, Sugar Ray Robinson, who lost only one of his professional 131 professional fights, was a more complete fighter. But Ali's athletic feats were only part of the whole. His charisma and quick wit charmed the world. He was an inspiration to other boxers. He shaped the times in which he lived. He influenced the voice of the Vietnam anti-war movement in the 1960s when he refused to serve and was banned from boxing and later reinstated. He hated injustice. He commanded the presence of presidents. He was involved in peace-keeping trips, fund-raising efforts for Parkinson's Disease research and supported UNICEF, special Olympics and other charities.

Outstanding natural abilities and exceptional talent make Bolt the consummate sprinter. With a height of 6ft 5in (the tallest sprinter in world history), Bolt is virtually unbeatable. Built like a lanky long-distance runner, his long strides and high velocity sprinting techniques (a rare combination), make Bolt virtually unbeatable. Sprinters at even a tender age, easily outrun their friends before they start to receive formal training (nature topples nurture).

Putting his abilities into perspective, let us not forget that running is a natural form of terrestrial locomotion and can hardly be regarded as a sport. In racing it then becomes a sport, albeit requiring few skills (some might disagree). Running is universal - anyone from 350-pound Miss Fatty Boom Boom to one-year-old Johnny can run.


Less satisfaction


Did Bolt derive less satisfaction from his wins knowing his huge genetic advantage was partly the reason for his victories? We don't know and he probably won't tell you.

For now, being dubbed the fastest human, Bolt may derive immense satisfaction and, to his admirers, this accolade will reverberate for years. For them, he will always remain the greatest. But for him, the accolades - 'the fastest and the greatest' may seem hollow. Was it all too easy? Was it challenging enough? Will he become in his unsettled mind, dissatisfied and unfulfilled? Does he have to be bigger than the sport, in the wider sphere of life - doing acts of charity, selfless sacrifice, inspiring others and simple gestures of kindness?

Now that Bolt plans to retire from the Olympics, his best may be yet to come. Will he achieve more greatness or, have greatness thrust upon him? Good luck, Mr Bolt.

Dr Ethon Lowe