Athletics: A look back on Usain Bolt's bright as lightning career

Jamaican sprint legend Usain Bolt will bring the curtain down on a glittering career filled with plaudits on Saturday (Aug 12) after the 4x100m relay race at the London World Athletics Championships.
Jamaican sprint legend Usain Bolt will bring the curtain down on a glittering career filled with plaudits on Saturday (Aug 12) after the 4x100m relay race at the London World Athletics Championships.PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE - Eight-time Olympic champion Usain Bolt is universally regarded as the greatest sprinter of all time.

Despite suffering a shock loss to American Justin Gatlin in the 100m at the 2017 World Athletics Championships last Sunday to finish third, the Jamaican will hang up his spikes as the fastest man in history and arguably, athletics' most magnetic draw.

The Straits Times looks back on his storied track career as the 30-year-old prepares to run his final race in London in the 4x100m relay on Saturday (Aug 12) and lists down nine blistering reasons why he will go down in the record books.

1. Bolt's signature pose

The world was first introduced to the "Bolting", a move adopted by Bolt from a Jamaican tourism advertisement and which also pays homage to Jamaican dance hall music, in the summer of 2008 at the Beijing Olympics, and it instantly became a global sensation, spawning countless imitations since.

Politicians in former US President Barack Obama to royalty in Britain's Prince Harry and celebrities have all been seen copying Bolt's celebratory move, but none can lay claim to being the originator of athletics' most famous celebration .

2. One night in Beijing

Bolt was already making a name for himself, having won two medals at the 2007 World Athletics Championships - a silver in both the 200m and the 4x100m relay - but in May 2008, he announced his arrival on the world stage at the IAAF Reebok Grand Prix, setting a new 100m world record of 9.72 seconds, a mark previously held by compatriot Asafa Powell.

He cemented his name in the pantheon of sprint greats that August at the 2008 Beijing Games, rewriting his 100m world record in 9.69sec before emulating American sprinter Carl Lewis' double gold medal haul at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics by winning the 200m in 19.30sec.

Both marks were new world and Olympic records, and a star was born.

3. The world's fastest man

Before the 2009 World Athletics Championships, American rival Tyson Gay made bullish claims about breaking Bolt's then 100m mark of 9.69sec, having clocked 9.75sec at the US trials, but Bolt blew the competition out of the water in an iconic race.

Bolt shattered his 100m world record in 9.58sec to win his first gold medal at the world championships in Berlin and in doing so, recording the largest margin of improvement in the 100 m world record since the implementation of automatic timekeeping by the IAAF in 1977.

The mark still stands today.

4. Master of the short sprints

Bolt's 100m exploits are widely known, but he is also the only man to hold world records in both the 100m and 200m.

He rewrote US sprinter Michael Johnson's then 12-year-old 200m record of 19.32 sec with a run of 19.30sec, before lowering it to 19.19sec a year later in Berlin.

Pure lightning.


Bolt defended his 100m title at the 2012 London Games, rewriting his Olympic record with a time of 9.63sec and in the process, becoming the first sprinter since Lewis at the 1988 Seoul Olympics to retain his crown.

He followed the first-placed finish with a successful defence of his Olympic 200m title with a time of 19.32 sec before rounding off with the 4x100m relay gold.

"I'm now a legend, I'm also the greatest athlete to live," said Bolt, after his 200m victory.

Greatest of all time (GOAT)? Most certainly.

6. Larger-than-life personality

According to Forbes magazine, Bolt is 88th on the list of the world's highest-paid celebrities, and for good reason too.

They have him as the richest athlete in the history of the sport with annual earnings of US$34.2 million (S$46.6 million) from 2016-17 and Reuters have reported that his biggest sponsor, German sportswear company Puma, nets him an estimated US$10 million-a-year.

Puma have even talked up Bolt as a possible regional head, with chief executive Bjorn Gulden quoted as saying in German daily Handelsblatt: "Usain Bolt could be even more important for us when he stops running. I can even imagine that he could run our business in the Caribbean."

Gatorade, Hublot and Virgin Media are among his other major endorsements and Bolt even has own video game character in the mobile game app, Temple Run.

His charisma and larger than life persona both on and off the track has won him plenty of admirers and fans.

19.3 million likes on Facebook, 7.1 million followers on Instagram, 4.81 million followers on Twitter attest to his popularity.

National sprinter Timothee Yap believes Bolt has changed the face of the sport. "His personality on the track is as big off it and I think that's what contributes to his popularity. Athletics before he came was seen as boring, like just someone timing another guy running, but Bolt made it a show," said Yap.

"No matter what country you are from, at the Games, you would definitely support Bolt."

IAAF president Sebastian Coe has acknowledged the gaping hole that Bolt will leave behind upon his retirement, admitting in an interview with The Guardian: "There is going to be a void, no doubt about it. There isn't going to be another Usain Bolt for some time, but there are things we can do to lessen the impact of that loss."

7. Samba in Rio

At the 2016 Olympics, Bolt clinched the 100m and 200m gold medals in 9.81sec and 19.78sec respectively, and in the process, became the first athlete to win both events three consecutive times.

He also sealed his third and last Olympic gold in the 4x100m relay, lifting an unprecedented "triple-triple" crown, although that was later revoked after Jamaican team-mate Nesta Carter was retroactively disqualified from the 2008 Beijing Games, having tested positive for a banned substance.

8. Nitro Athletics

Bolt may be calling it a day, but he looks set to return to Melbourne to spearhead the 2018 edition, an event Coe believes will "revolutionise" the sport, with his All-Stars line-up providing the entertainment factor.

February's meet had six teams and featured non-traditional events like hurdles relays in a bid to increase the sport's pull factor.

9. Bittersweet end or is it?

Despite not going into the world championships in the best of form, it was still a seismic surprise that Bolt failed to cap his illustrious career with one final individual gold as party pooper and convicted drug cheat American Justin Gatlin pipped him at the finish line, with compatriot Christian Coleman coming in second.

Bolt still can sign off on a high note in the 4x100m relay and the world's eyes will be on him as he makes his swansong.

"What we will miss is the personality. We do want athletes with personality. It's nice to have someone who has a view and fills the room and fills a stadium," said Coe, and there are many who would wholeheartedly agree.