Saturday 18 November 2017

'I want to be remembered like Pele or Ali'

Bolt eager to be compared with legends as final leg of 'triple triple' beckons

Usain Bolt celebrates with supporters after winning the men's 200metres gold medal Photo: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images
Usain Bolt celebrates with supporters after winning the men's 200metres gold medal Photo: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Ben Bloom

He had already proclaimed himself a "legend" and admitted to being fond of the description "immortal", so if anything it was something of a backward step when Usain Bolt started comparing himself to other earthly beings.

The 'Greatest Of All Time' pub debate is nothing new, of course, but it has taken on a new lease of life with the Twitter generation and the birth of the social-media-friendly 'GOAT' acronym.

It is impossible to compare Bolt to Pele, Muhammad Ali to Don Bradman, or Michael Jordan to Tiger Woods, but that will never stop the world from attempting to separate sporting greatness.

Fresh from running his final 200m race at the Olympics - and unsurprisingly adding another gold medal to his bulging collection - Bolt was simply happy to have his name mentioned in the list.

Whether he was at the top is for other people to decide.

"I am trying to be one of the greatest," he said. "Be among Ali and Pele. This is what I work for, to be the best and among the greats. The hard work actually paid off."


These Rio Games have seen the end of an era in two of the flagship Olympic sports. Athletics has lost the biggest star it has ever seen, with Bolt bidding farewell and ruling out any chance of a return for Tokyo in four years' time.

The loss has been echoed in swimming by Michael Phelps calling time on his career.

Is it possible to compare a man who has so dominated the sprinting world on the track to someone who has won an unprecedented 23 Olympic gold medals in the pool?

"For me, I can't say," said a diplomatic Bolt. "We do totally different events and leave that up to the media and press people to decide that.

"He's shown that he's one of the best, without a doubt. He's won so many medals, dominated, retired, come back and proved he's one of the best. I could never say who is the best. We're great in our own different fields."

Of that there can be no doubt.

Blighted by poor attendances throughout these Games, Rio's packed Olympic Stadium resounded to the chants of "Usain Bolt, Usain Bolt" after the sport's favourite son bowed out of individual action at an Olympics with victory in the 200m on Thursday night.

Although the result was never in doubt - the odds had been as short as 1/100 for him to retain his title from London four years ago - it was impossible to deny a slight sense of anticlimax when Bolt crossed the line victorious.

Despite running into a headwind as the rain fell, the furious look on Bolt's face as he caught sight of the clock and realised he had only run 19.78 seconds betrayed the fact that he had hoped to bid his fans adieu in more impressive fashion.

"I was disappointed," he said. "I'm always happy to win, but wanted to run faster, even if I didn't break the world record.

"My legs were tired and wouldn't respond in the final. I'm getting older so don't recover like I usually do. I'm not 26 any more. I'm not 21 any more. It's not as easy as it used to be.

"I wanted it but my body couldn't take it. The elements may have made a little bit of a difference. The key thing is I won, which is what I came to do. This medal means the world to me, my 200m gold medal means a lot more than anything else to me."

Celebrating his 30th birthday tomorrow, the question now moves on to how many more times we will see Jamaica's most famous export grace an athletics track.

Insisting that he has nothing left to achieve in the sport, Bolt has been cajoled by his sponsors to compete on the global stage one final time at next year's World Championships in London.

With the cheapest tickets for those championships being sold at £9.58 to match Bolt's 100m world record, it is perhaps appropriate that the Jamaican is veering towards only contesting the shorter sprint in London and bowing out from the 200m with the Olympic title.

"I said it would be 100m and that's it," he said. "My coach has a way of trying to convince me, but personally I believe this is my last (200m)."

As the end comes ever nearer, the question of Bolt's legacy becomes more pertinent. Of the 30 fastest 100m times ever run, 21 of them have been achieved by athletes who have served doping bans at some point in their career, with the other nine belonging to Bolt. It is a record of which he is immensely proud.

"It's big," he says. "This is why most people say I'm so important for the sport, to prove to the younger generation that all it takes is hard work and determination. Continue working hard and reap the success.

"I've worked so hard and stayed so focused for so many years. It's just a relief. There will be hard times but it feels good when you achieve what you've accomplished. I came to prove to the world I'm the best and uplift the sport."

So said a great man.

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