Noted track and field coach Stephen Francis ranks Jamaican superstar Usain Bolt as the best sprinter in history but believes that the double Olympic champion and world record holder has seen his best days.
Asked to name the top three sprinters in track and field history, Francis named Bolt and Bobby Hayes, the 1964 100m Olympic champion-turned-NFL wide receiver as the joint best, with the 1936 sprint double champion Jesse Owens making it in third spot on his list.
However, guided by Bolt's inability to test his 9.58 (100m) and 19.19 (200m) world records since they were established in 2009 and, perhaps to a lesser extent, his so-so start to the 2013 season, Francis said:
"It's obvious (that Bolt is declining), that's what the figures say, so I am going with the figures. The figures appear to say that he peaked in 2009. He has not been able to go back to 9.58 yet, and until he does that, I have to assume that he is in decline, but that does not mean that he is not the best but I guess there is only so long that you can stay at that level."
After his performances at the IAAF World Championships in 2009, where he posted those world record marks, Bolt shortened his 2010 season after persistent injury problems and recorded best times of 9.82 (100m) and 19.56 (200m). In 2011, his season bests were 9.76 and 19.40, while last year he managed 9.63 and 19.32.
So far this year, Bolt who actually lost to Justin Gatlin in Rome a few weeks ago, has recorded times of 9.95 and 19.79. But despite Bolt closing out his seasons with times that rank among the fastest ever recorded, Francis is sticking to his theory.
Francis made it clear, however, that he is not questioning Bolt's dominance.
"Relative to the people in their time, the best will have to be Bobby Hayes and Usain Bolt, mainly because they have been able to beat the people who they run against by such wide margins," said Francis.
"Even though Bolt is probably declining at the moment, he is still a good distance ahead of everyone else; and Bobby Hayes in his time, there was no real competition, so I would say those two are the best," Francis added.
Francis is regarded as one of the greatest coaches in history and has trained the likes of Asafa Powell, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Melaine Walker, Brigitte Foster-Hylton, Kaliese Spencer, Shericka Jackson and a cadre of other top international stars at his Kingston-based MVP Track Club.