Bolt’s legendary career ends in a cry of pain
LONDON - The loudest roar of these world track and field championships came Saturday night (Sunday morning, Singapore time) as Usain Bolt lay facedown on the track and in great pain.
The roar had nothing to do with Bolt.
After Bolt took the baton from his teammate Yohan Blake to run the anchor leg of Jamaica’s 4x100m men’s relay, their team was in third place. In years past, that would have been a minor concern for Bolt, the greatest sprinter in history.
This time, he began to gather speed, only to pull up and shout in pain from what appeared to be a left leg injury about 60m from the finish line.
It was hardly the farewell party that Bolt, the greatest sprinter in history, had in mind when he decided to make this meet the final one of his career.
His failure to finish would normally have cast a pall over the rest of the race, but it has been a frustrating meet for Britain, the host country. And with Bolt on the ground and the Jamaicans out of contention, the gold came down to a sprint for the finish between Christian Coleman of the United States and Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake of Britain.
Britain won by 0.05 seconds, finishing in 37.47 seconds to the Americans’ 37.52. As the official results flashed on the big screen, the crowd cheered wildly for Britain’s second gold medal of these championships.
Meanwhile, Bolt’s teammates rushed to help him as he lay on the track in the same stadium where he and his countrymen had set the world record in this event, 36.84 seconds, at the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Kevin Jones, a doctor with the Jamaican team, said his preliminary diagnosis was that Bolt had suffered an acute muscle cramp in his left hamstring, although Jones could not rule out the possibility of a muscle tear. He said that a slight delay at the start of the race - because of the length of two medal ceremonies that preceded it - might have contributed to Bolt’s situation.
“It was cold back there, and the guys were complaining,” said Jones.
Blake told reporters afterward: “They were holding us too long in the call room. Usain was really cold. In fact, Usain said to me, *Yohan, I think this is crazy, 40 minutes and two medal presentations before our run.’”
Omar McLeod, who ran the first leg for the Jamaican team, also criticised the delay.
“We were really trying our hardest to stay warm and keep upbeat, but it was ridiculous,” he said.
But none of the sprinters from the teams that did win medals had a problem similar to Bolt’s, not even Justin Gatlin, the 35-year-old American who upset Bolt in the 100m sprint here (and who was booed again by some members of the sellout crowd during introductions).
“I personally think we were held underneath the stadium a little too long without our clothes on,” Gatlin said, referring to the athletes’ warmup suits. “It was pretty drafty, and I lost all my sweat and body heat. I think a lot of us were jostling around trying to stay warm a little longer than usual.”
Bolt won three gold medals at the London Games, confirming his status as one of the greatest Olympians in history. He added three more golds at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, but this season proved to be one too far for Bolt, who will turn 31 this month. At these championships, he had to settle for a bronze medal in the 100m race. And then came the relay.
No morning person, he made an exception this time and took part in the early heats, running the anchor leg and helping Jamaica win its heat to qualify for the final. Bolt put on a good show before the final, too, joking with the mascot in the corridor leading to the track and playing to the crowd once he emerged from the tunnel.
But there would be no grins or laps of honour after this relay was run, and if this was indeed his final official race, it was hardly a reflection of the mood and victories that preceded it.
Bolt looked anything but invulnerable as he grabbed at his left leg, shouting an epithet while his rivals continued to accelerate. He looked anything but superhuman as he fell to earth, although he did manage a somersault on the way down.
He later rose again and limped away without speaking to reporters.
“I think that no one wants to see Usain go out like that,” said Gatlin, who remains convinced - despite Bolt’s insistence otherwise - that Bolt will eventually come back. “I think all of us have been inspired by him in some form and some way in his career. He’s done so much from 2008 on to now, so I think we can look past everything that has happened in these championships and congratulate him on his legendary career.”
If this is the end, Bolt finishes with 14 career medals in the world championships, 11 of them gold, and with eight Olympic gold medals.
But there was no final flourish for a man who has been not only one of global sport’s great athletes, but one of its great entertainers as well. THE NEW YORK TIMES