Just months away from the swansong of his most extraordinary career, the eight-time Olympic champion Usain Bolt talks to the IOC about his greatest triumphs, the occasional lows, what the future holds and going out on a high.
The end is nigh. On 12 August at the IAAF World Championships in London, Usain Bolt, the eight-time Olympic champion, the 100m, 200m and 4x100m world record-holder, the man who for a decade has bestrode his sport, will compete for the final time.
“I think my last race will be emotional,” the Jamaican told the IOC, with mischievous understatement. While the crowd will be forgiven a tear or two at the London Stadium, the champion himself is fully focused on ensuring he goes out in predictable style. “I hope I wake up [on 13 August] having won more gold medals. If I am fit and healthy going into the Championships I won’t be worried,” he said.
I think my last race will be emotional.Usain Bolt
It is almost inconceivable that the man who has given so much will not be granted a final triumph. The fact his last hurrah is in London helps. “I’ve had some great races in London,” said the 30–year-old, who ran the second fastest 100m of all time, 9.63 seconds, to win Olympic gold at the London Stadium in 2012. Bolt, of course, added two more gold medals in 2012 and in three subsequent visits to the track for the London Anniversary Games, he remains unbeaten.
“The 2012 Olympic Games were amazing. The fans were out in force for every session, from early morning to late night. Hopefully they will create a similar energy in August,” he said.
And then it will be over and we will all be left wondering what to do next. For Bolt there is already a plea from Sebastian Coe, president of the IAAF, not to exit the stage entirely, with suggestions of an ambassadorial role. “My agent is speaking to Seb about the details. We want to do something meaningful and beneficial,” he said.
Bolt refuses to be drawn on who - among the likes of Canada’s Rio 2016 Olympic 100m bronze and 200m silver medallist Andre de Grasse or compatriot and two-time Olympic Games silver medallist Yohan Blake or even Britain’s Adam Gemili - might step into the vacuum. “There are several good guys out there. I never really pick out one person,” said Bolt.
While he insists it will be “fun to watch”, it is difficult to imagine the party-loving, Manchester United fanatic spending much time spectating. Bolt has had fun regularly claiming that he will sign for Jose Mourinho, the Manchester United manager, once he is done with athletics, but when you get down to details, he gets surprisingly serious. Asked if he would swap just one of his 13 World Championship or eight Olympic medals for a Premier League start at Old Trafford, his answer is unequivocal. “I like all my medals. I wouldn’t give any of them away, they all have special memories,” he said firmly.
I have no regrets. Athletics has been very good to me. I would not change anything.Usain Bolt
His is a career illuminated by extraordinary statistics. Here is just one: in the nine years since he claimed a first international gold, the Olympic Games Beijing 2008 100m, Bolt has never lost a major final. It seems scarcely possible, but within that streak, the Jamaican did suffer a series of nagging injuries, the worst of which relegated his entire 2014 season to three races.
“Injuries are always the most difficult thing to deal with,” Bolt said. “I had a good team around me, including my coach Glen Mills, who helped me stay positive.”Despite all the talk, all the hype, all the hanging out with celebrities from Beyoncé to Obama, Usain Bolt is, and always has been, an athlete first and foremost. “I have no regrets. Athletics has been very good to me. I would not change anything,” he said.