The most decorated sprinter of all time, Usain Bolt is determined to outdo himself at Rio 2016.
In between winning his first Olympic 100m title at Beijing 2008 and his 11th world gold – in the 4x100m relay in the Chinese capital seven years later – Usain Bolt pocketed another 15 Olympic and world championship gold medals. In the process he became the greatest sprinter the world has ever seen, reprising his signature “Shh” gesture and “Lightning Bolt” celebration pose at arenas all over the world.
Reflecting on his unique status in the build-up to Rio 2016, the six-time Olympic champion said: “I never really accepted that title, till after the Olympics, then I said: ‘You know, I’ve done something no other athlete has done. So that’s when I started taking it on, but I want to do more to make it even bigger and to make my status in the sport greater.”
Bolt made his Olympic debut as a 17-year-old at Athens 2004, where, hampered by a torn hamstring, he went out in the opening round of the 200m. By the time he returned to the Games at Beijing four years later, the tall Jamaican sprinter was a firm favourite to claim an Olympic sprint double, having set a new 100m world record of 9.72 seconds in late May in New York and then run the fastest 200m of the year in 19.67 a few weeks later in Athens.
Taking to the track at the Bird’s Nest in his distinctive gold spikes, Bolt duly etched his name in track and field history, taking his world record down to 9.69 in winning the 100m at a canter. Another gold and another world record followed in the 200m, with the Jamaican stopping the clock at 19.30 to eclipse Michael Johnson’s time at Atlanta 1996.
A third gold and a third world record then followed in the 4x100m relay, Bolt running a lightning-fast final bend as he, Nesta Carter, Michael Frater and Asafa Powell clocked 37.10.
“I want to share it with my team,” said Bolt after completing his hat-trick. “It’s down to them that I beat the world record today. When you beat the relay world record, you feel four times happier.”
His unprecedented achievement of setting three world records in winning three sprint golds made him the star of Beijing 2008 along with US swimmer Michael Phelps and earned him an ecstatic reception on his return to Jamaica in early September.
Another Olympic gold rush
Bolt cemented his status as a global superstar the following year in trimming 0.11 seconds off his 100m world record and setting a new 200m world record of 19.19 at the IAAF World Championships at Berlin, with both those times having yet to be bettered.
The only major title that evaded his grasp after Beijing 2008 was the 100m at the 2011 Worlds in Daegu, where he was disqualified for a false start in the final. Determined to atone for that setback, he arrived at London 2012 with his sights firmly set on more gold.
Savouring the atmosphere in the British capital, Bolt said: “What I liked about London was definitely the crowd. For me, it was exciting the energy, and surprisingly the stadium was always full, no matter what time of day. I came out for the heats of the 100m, which was early, and it was ram-packed of people. At the Olympics or any championship people never come out early in the morning. For me that was surprising and it was a great reception. It was a wonderful experience.”
Bolt drew on that energy to retain the 100m, 200m and 4x100m titles, the Jamaican star linking up with Frater, Carter and Yohan Blake in the last of those three events to run 36.84, yet another world record.
Reflecting on his second “triple triple”, he said: “There was a little bit more pressure, but it didn’t bother me as much. But there was a different expectation from me. I went out there just to show the world that I could do it again. That was my focus and I got it done, so it was good. It was a long season but I accomplished what I came to London to do. I’m very proud of myself.”
Further triples came his way at the 2013 and 2015 Worlds in Moscow and Beijing respectively, taking his haul of world championship golds to 11, more than any other athlete.
Having achieved so much already, what comes next for the peerless Bolt? “That’s always the question: what can you do? It’s just to go faster! One thing I’ve always dreamed of is trying to run sub-19. The 200 is my favourite event, so for me that would be something big for me in my career. And there’s also one step in trying to do this again in Rio.”
Asked on his hopes of securing a “triple triple” in Rio, he said: “That would be awesome! I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do.” And so is the rest of the world!