Usain Bolt ready to go supersonic one last period for his Jamaica farewell
Usain Bolt is as big as Bob Marley in Jamaica, where he will take centre stage at a typically star-studded final track appearance there
The long, lank son in lane three is rigid with nerves. Understandably, given he is 15 years old and racing in the World Junior Championships 200 m final against athletes three years his senior. Technically he is a mess too. When he runs his neck is cocked back and tilted rightwards, as if he has slept awkwardly and missed an osteopaths appointment. It scarcely matters. As he rounds the bending he abruptly runs supersonic to win in 20.61 sec.
In front of his home fans at the National Stadium in Kingston, Usain Bolt has just become the youngest junior world champ in history.
On Saturday night, 15 years on from that golden hello, Bolt returns to the same stadium for his farewell race in Jamaica. They are calling it Salute to a Legend, and for once the hyperbole is not misplaced. Over 30,000 will watch a star-studded undercard, including Britains doubled Olympic champion Mo Farah, the double Olympic 800 m gold medallist David Rudisha, and the 400 m world record holder Wayde van Niekerk, and then party long into the night with dancehall superstars such as Beenie Man and Ding Dong. As always, though, Bolt will take centre stage.
But, as he acknowledges, telling goodbye and coming to terms with his own sporting mortality is going to be emotional. I live to make my country proud, he adds. When I was growing up my idols were Don Quarrie and Herb McKenley. I watched these guys dominating on the way, and working hard and I just wanted to be like them. I wanted to set my country on the map. Wherever I go in the world and find Jamaicans and they tell me I attain them feel proud, and for me that is a big honour.
In truth, Bolts 100 m race at 10.10 pm local time will be more of a gala than a competition. His most dangerous competitors, including Olympic silver medallist Yohan Blake and the young South African sensation Akani Simbine, who has dipped under 10 seconds six periods in 2017, have been planted in a much tougher 100 m earlier in the evening. He will win. And win well.
Even so, it will still serve as a useful barometer given that Bolt has not raced competitively since January and missed training for nearly three weeks following the death of his close friend, the British high jumper, Germaine Mason. With the world championships in London two months away, he needs to make a statement. As his father, Wellesley, sets it: He started at 15 on a winning note and he wants to leave the sport on a winning note. So his main aim is to win here and be in London.
It is hard to exaggerate the outpouring of love and pride Jamaicans have for Bolt. In dozens of conversations the same phrases are uttered like mantras, especially People person and Makes our country proud. There is also no doubt among Jamaicans that, despite the chequered history of the 100 m and doping, Bolt has done everything the right way.
And at the Spartan Health Club where Bolt does regular cardio, fat-burning and step conferences( although he draws the line at the Friday evening burlesque class ), his personal trainer, Steve Ming, insists that what you see is what you get. The moment he strolls in, he lights up the room, tells Ming, who has known Bolt since he was a scrawny teenager. Theres a big rivalry inside the gym between Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea. We are the[ Manchester] United crew and hes a United supporter. So when Arsenal are losing he will walk in and start joking. Hes simply a normal person. The owned of the gym, Andro Henry, adds that Bolts other big passion is Japanese manga comics especially Naruto and Bleach and that Bolt talks to everyone.
The Jamaican minister of culture, gender, amusement and sport, Olivia Grange, goes further still. She believes Bolt ranks alongside Bob Marley as the biggest star to ever come out of the country. Anywhere around the world you go, if you say Jamaica they say Bob and Bolt, she tells. We have a telling: were little but we are tallawah, which means we maybe small but we are awesome. Its wonderful that Jamaica which is such a small country has such an awesome presence through its music and way and field.
It helps, too, that Bolt is considered humble and willing to do so much for charity. As Andre Lowe, the athletics editor of the Jamaica Gleaner newspaper, sets it: Hes not your quintessential mega-rich, diva-type hotshot. He loves kids and thats why helping to improve the quality of life for Jamaican children is such a big part of his charity endeavors. Theres a joke if you want to get Bolt to appear anywhere, tell him there will be kids there.
But in Jamaica they know that the 6ft 5in star will cast a long shadow where reference is retires after London – especially given that he has contributed to 40% of the countrys medals at Olympic Games and world championships since 2008. True, there is a long treadmill of talent, but few dispute the fact that freaks such as Bolt come along once in a generation. We will certainly miss his dominance, admits Lowe. His international appeal, his personality these are things that all added to brand Jamaica, these are all things that we will no longer be allowed to point to.
Bolt, meanwhile, is yet to make any firm plans for retirement. His coach, Glen Mills, wants him to take over as coach-and-four of the Racers Club, but he has always demonstrated a certain reluctance for early morning starts. And while the Jamaican government says he is pushing at an open door if he wants to go into politics, he insists that it is not for him and he tries to stay as far as possible away from that.
Even so, the athletics minister is still hoping that Bolt will continue to do his bit for Jamaica in the future. I wish he would change his intellect, she tells, before adding, with a twinkle in her eye. But if not, I look forward to him determining down and making a family with some little Bolts.
Read more: www.theguardian.com