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Gleaner Honour Award: Usain Bolt - Rising above doubt

Published:Tuesday | January 19, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Usain Bolt

Top of the hill, King of the world - track and field's poster boy Usain Bolt ended 2015 as the undeniable champion of the sprints after another dominant display in a place he knew well - Beijing's iconic Birds Nest Stadium.

The truth is, as was the case during his first trip to the Chinese city ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games, Bolt arrived at last Summer's IAAF World Championships with considerable doubt about his readiness to defend his place in track and field's Throne Room.

It hardly mattered that his credentials were as intimidating as the Great Wall of China itself - six Olympic and eight World Championships gold medals, plus world records in the 100m, 200m, and 4x100m.

What was most worrying, though, was his form - or lack thereof - going into the championships.

The powerful Jamaican had not run a time below 20 seconds and appeared sluggish before showing a spark in back-to-back 100m starts in London two weeks before his trip to Beijing, twice stopping the clock at 9.87 on a cold, wet British afternoon.


Kingdom at risk

However, for the faint in faith, that wasn't quite enough. The Kingdom was at risk; Bolt's reign was under siege.

It seems a perfect time to introduce the main protagonist, the real world's fastest villain, American speedster Justin Gatlin, whose previous drug ban had made him an unpopular favourite for Beijing's gold medal bounty.

Still, it was hard to ignore his break-neck season, which saw him stopping the clock at 9.74 and 19.57, which made him the fifth-fastest man ever in the 100m and 200m.

"You can never write off Bolt, but I'm the man to beat," Gatlin had declared.

His chest was out, as Gatlin sensed that the champion was vulnerable and so did two-thirds of the world's track-and-field analysts. Bolt, for his part, was never in doubt, but it led to a drama-filled build-up to the World Championships that would fit perfectly well with your favourite daytime soap opera.

His most recent triumphs share quite a few parallels with Bolt's first time on the track, where his legend was born.

Yes, he was fresh from a then 9.72 world-record run in the 100m and had gone sub-20 seconds in four of his five 200m races before the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

But back then, for most, his gold-medal credentials were still unproven on the biggest of stages and despite his now-bulging medal cabinet, Bolt would again have to silence the naysayers and 'save the sport', even if at that point, he seemed to need some saving himself.

"I am feeling good, I have been training well and everything is coming together," said a confident Bolt ahead of his 100m title defence.

It certainly didn't 'come together' in his semi-final run as the notoriously bad starter got the worst start possible (even by his standards); swaying from side to side, before almost falling to his face.

The deafening silence that squeezed the life out of a packed Birds Nest turned to a buzz of excited chatter as the Jamaican locomotive laboured to catch up to a world-class field and even had time to ease off a bit before taking the win and booking a lane in the final.

It was one of the most amazing recoveries ever witnessed in the short sprint, but more than anything, it must have sent chills down his rivals' spines. Bolt is back, the King lives!

He secured his empire a few hours later in a bitter fight to the line with Gatlin, securing his third 100m World Championships gold medal in 9.79 seconds - far from his glitzy world record form; but sometimes 'the best' doesn't have to be at his best to be better than everyone else.


favourite event

The 200m was less of a contest as Bolt, who had earlier reminded the world that the half-lap event was his favourite and that he was determined to also hold on to that title, made light work of the competition, winning in 19.55 to crush the field.

He would then anchor Jamaica to a commanding 37.36 win in the 4x100m relay, extending his record to 11 World Championships gold and following up his 2009 and 2013 World Championships hattrick with another triple treat in Beijing.

Where Bolt and championships are concerned, it's like a good movie that you keep watching over and over again; looking for another sub-plot, half expecting another twist, despite knowing the outcome.

It's always Hollywood exciting, but the ending remains the same. When the credits begin to roll and the theatre begins to empty, the hero stands tall.

The great Bolt will need to be at his best again this summer, as the closing pages of a one of the most dominant reigns in sports begin to turn at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The challengers are just as hungry and determined to knock him off his perch, but that is matched by the Jamaican's insatiable drive for success.

Doubt him if you wish, but we all know how it's most likely going to end.