Sun | Nov 19, 2017

Hubert Lawrence | Exit the tall man

Published:Thursday | August 17, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Usain Bolt in London during the 4x100 metres heats.

Sunday ushered in an era many wanted to postpone. It's time to ponder world athletics without the incomparable Usain Bolt. It's a mark of respect for a career so great that it makes smiles appear.

His athletic brilliance is one thing. As strange as it seems, his monumental 100- and 200-metre records - 9.58 seconds and 19.19 seconds - may well be broken in the distant future. Theoretically, someone could match his stunning consistency with sprint doubles in three back-to-back Olympic Games. It's a stretch of the imagination but it's possible.

It's harder to imagine a better Brand Jamaica ambassador than Bolt. Along with the speed that has been passed down from his ancestors, Bolt broke the mould of the stony-faced running machine. During his decade at the top, he was the epitome of fun at high speed.

Carl Lewis and Michael Johnson, the previous kings of athletics, left the sport with far less fanfare than Bolt received last weekend at the World Championships in London. Lewis' detractors warmed to him and his tuxedo track suits near the end of his brilliant career. By comparison, Johnson was far quieter and less colourful than the tall man from Trelawny.

There were times when Bolt was a running machine and other times when he was a superhero. The first case was exemplified when his precise sprinting at the 2009 World Championships produced mind-boggling world records. The other came into stark relief when he bounced back from injury just in time to nip Justin Gatlin in the 100m at the 2015 World Championships.

 

MANY DOUBTERS

 

Sadly, there are Jamaicans who doubt him. One gentlemen beckoned me across on Tuesday at the supermarket only to ask, "Hubert, you tink him fake pull in the relay?" It's a sad thought about an icon who has always given his all.

Presumably, such Jamaican doubting Thomases are few. For me, the painful end to Bolt's career confirmed that he had run the thread off the tyre. Thirteen major individual gold medals, 52 sub-10 100m races and 34 sub-20 200m efforts will do that. Confronted with a deficit in the 4x100m relay, he drew for a gear that was no longer there.

It doesn't matter now. It doesn't even matter that the cramp may also have been caused by a long wait to race in ghastly London weather. What we saw at the end of the World Championships was an outpouring of love for Mr Brand Jamaica, Usain Bolt.

Fittingly, while he walked a coronation lap of the London Stadium at Queen Elizabeth Park, the air was filled with music by Jimmy Cliff and Bob Marley.

Travelling Jamaicans know the difference he has made. When they ventured abroad in the past, their hosts would ask about Marley. If the journey was to an international athletics event, the question would refer to legendary Herb McKenley.

Now all they ask about is Bolt.

- Hubert Lawrence has watched Bolt since 2000.