If this was Usain Bolt’s last act take it in and revel in it.
What we’ve been lucky enough to watch over the last decade is the most dominant athlete of our time, and like his races it’s not close.
If the 200-metre was his closing act then the 4x100m relay was his encore. With a time of 37.27 Jamaica won gold in the relay for the third straight Olympics, helping Bolt clinch and unprecedented third straight “triple-triple.”
We’ve never seen anything as dominant as him and there’s a good chance we never will again.
Ask yourself this question, if Bolt said he was going to compete in the 400 metres at the next Olympics would you bet against him? What about the 800 metres? Could he transfer all of that speed and length to the long jump? Would his superior coordination at 6-foot-5’ aid him in the triple jump?
The point is this: Bolt is so dominant in his chosen field when we watch him compete our minds wander to what else he could conquer. There was no drama in any of his events. My eyes were fixed on Andre De Grasse’s Lane all competition partly out of patriotism and partly because I knew what Bolt was going to do. Win, because that’s all he does.
The only major championship he has lost was in the 2011 world championships when he false started in the final. The recent rule change eliminating runners after a false start actually has hurt his ability to dominate. In the past when the first false start was charged to the field and second is an automatic disqualification, a rule that helps a runner like Bolt.
Bolt has always struggled with his start because it physiologically takes longer to get those long legs out of the blocks, thus he could purposely false start. That would make the rest of the field more cautious coming out of the block and mitigate the fact he’s slow off the gun. Yet the rule was changed and it hasn’t mattered as Bolt hasn’t had to resort to crafty measures to continue to win.
Starting a race is his only Achilles heel. Remember, originally the 100m was just thrown in to his training schedule so he could improve his starts for the 200m and 400m. Instead he improved the world record time. It’s not just that he competes and wins at two different distances, it’s that he has the Olympic and world record at both distances.
Every once in a while an athlete comes along that changes the way we view a sport or an action within it. Across generations and disciplines we marvel at how Babe Ruth changed the home run, Stephen Curry changed the three-pointer, Wayne Gretzky changed the pass or Anderson Silva changed striking.
Bolt has changed the way we look at the most fundamental human skill, running. Something we’ve seen people do virtually the same way for generations. It goes against all logic that humans can gallop with a turnover so high and a stride length so long the way Bolt does. When you watch Bolt it’s as if you can’t believe what you are seeing even though at this point the result is quite predictable. At no point do you think he’s not going to pull ahead. At no point do you think he’s going to be caught from behind. And he never is.
Yet the thing that we love the most about elite athletes is how they rise up when faced with adversity and supreme competition. Michael Jordan’s game winners and Joe Montana’s comebacks matter because things were close when all the chips were down. With the superhero that is Bolt we don’t have those death-defying stunts, when the chips are down he dominates.
There is a legitimate argument over whether or not Phelps is a better Olympian or Carl Lewis is a better athlete but nobody, in any sport, at any time has been as dominant as Bolt.
Towards the end of other greats careers most are hanging on, a shadow of the their past selves. However, Bolt has barely lost a step in a sport when he wins by multiple steps. Not only has he been brilliant, he’s sustained success in a sport where you’re here today and gone tomorrow.
Given the numbers he put up in Rio there is no reason he couldn’t compete in Tokyo and add to the record number of medals, yet Bolt has strongly suggested he’ll call it quits because he has nothing left to prove.
Many men before Bolt and many after (maybe) will hold the title of the world’s fastest man. Only one can truly claim he’s the most dominant. Just another way Bolt has separated himself from the pack.