The 13th edition of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) comes to a conclusion on Sunday 23 August with the lingering memory of the remarkable achievement of Jamaica’s Usain Bolt in the 100m.
Generally the 100m is seen as the single event that allows one to earn the title, ‘The fastest man in the world’.
An amazing Bolt
At the Berlin World Championship currently in progress we saw Bolt lower the world 100m record to an amazing 9.58 seconds.
We should readily recall that Bolt established a new world record for the event exactly one year earlier at the Beijing Olympics when he produced 9.69 seconds shutting off some distance from the finish line. At the time of his victory in Beijing, some experts, with the help of modern technology, observed that had Bolt sustained his top speed through to the finish line in Beijing he would have produced a 9.55 seconds performance. Some critics disagreed.
Bolt’s achievement of 9.58 down taking the world record down from 9.69 is the single biggest jump in a world record since the introduction of electronic timing in athletics.
What we have seen in Berlin reveals the utter genius of an athlete produced wholly in the Caribbean.
From all reports Usain Bolt may not yet have reached his best level preparation for the Berlin World Championships.
It has been stated during the year that Bolt has not been consistent with his training. By his own admission the young man has repeatedly stated that he is not fully where he ought to be in terms of his preparation for the World Championships, yet he was able to produce a new world record.
In the promotion for the 13th World Championships in Athletics in Berlin featured the 100m as a match up between Bolt and the 2007 double world champion, Tyson Gay. As it turned out, many at the competition venue in Berlin thought that fellow Jamaican, Asafa Powell, had recovered sufficiently to pose the greater threat to Bolt. In the end, Bolt was never threatened. He went through each round virtually jogging past his opponents.
In the final, Bolt led from the front and while Gay and Powell took the second and third places respectively neither ever appeared to raise any meaningful challenge to Bolt’s overwhelming supremacy in the event.
Clearly Usain Bolt is evidence of pure athletics genius. He stands alone in the sport akin to the way in which Michael Jordan did in the sport of Basketball, Lara in Cricket, Pele in Football, Federer in Tennis and Woods in Golf.
We should not be surprised that Bolt was somewhat under-prepared for this year’s World Championships. Since his outstanding demolition job in the 100m, 200m and 4 x 100m relay in Beijing, Bolt has been the toast of the world. He has been moving from one major international function to another receiving top awards for his performances. This has clearly eaten into his training time. Indeed there seems little doubt that Bolt would not have had much of a pre-competition season, something that is not entirely unusual for this young man.
The evidence is also there to show that during the early part of the competitive season this year Bolt has been in places determined by his management team and doing his own thing in terms of competition.
Bolt’s 150m performance courtesy Manchester United, was done on a track laid on the street and in horrible weather yet he produced another world record.
He has been at Meets that appear to have been determined largely by the size and enticement of the appearance fees than for anything else.
While others have been seeking to earn even a small part of the one million dollar jackpot put up by the IAAF in the Golden league, Bolt has been raking in millions on his own largely through the same appearance fees. He has therefore not shown any interest in the Golden League, much to the chagrin of the leadership of the IAAF.
There is a sense in which Bolt’s global appeal and the lucrative offers that are on the table in appearance fees has set him at variance with the projected plans of the IAAF. After all, the concept of the Golden League now turned into the Diamond League is to have the world’s best athletes engaged in competition to provide continued high quality competition capable of sustaining lucrative television contracts for the organisation as well as greater global positioning.
Unfortunately for the IAAF the super performances of Usain Bolt does not hold out much hope that the organisation would be able to provide a League that would be comparably enticing. It is something that the IAAF would have to rue over for some time. For the time being it would have to suffice with being guaranteed only of his participation in the World Championships.
The young Bolt
Those who have followed the rise of Usain Bolt can attest to the fact that there has always been a relatively care-free approach to sport. Like so many other youngsters in Jamaica, Bolt is comfortable playing football and basketball. Thus it appears that when his track and field potential was acknowledged it was no easy task to get him to focus solely on the sport of athletics.
Many may remember Bolt’s achievement at the IAAF World Junior Championships hosted by Jamaica. At that Meet Bolt shocked the world with a gold medal in the 200m at the age of 15 years engaged in an Under 20 competition against the very best in the world. Of course he had already won Carifta gold earlier in the same year.
Since then Bolt has been phenomenal. In 2004 he established a new world junior record for the 200m when he produced a time of 19.93 in the final in Bermuda.
Unfortunately the Jamaican athletics authorities suddenly saw too far ahead and decided that he was not going to the World Junior Championships in Grossetto, Italy, opting instead to select the young man to the team to the Athens Olympics later in the year. Unfortunately too, Bolt got injured and there was no shortage of finger-pointing among the Jamaican officials. Bolt was in Athens but could not run.
In 2005, competing only in the 200m, Bolt stopped midway down the home-straight in the final. While some Jamaicans quickly claimed a back problem the young athlete seemed to have convinced his fellow athlete sin the Games Village that he was not satisfied with his performance and decided to stop.
The reality is that given Bolt’s immense potential there are Jamaicans always on the ready to offer excuses for and on his behalf. On the other hand, Bolt is quite capable of speaking for himself and when he is not prepared or not sufficiently committed he says so to all and sundry.
His carefree style, almost cavalier, leaves him a youngster enjoying life.
His crash of the most expensive Mercedes sports car on the island of Jamaica some time ago is reflects the approach the young man has to life, more generally. Nothing seems to bother him, a fact that serves him well on the track.
Many still believe that there is a tinge of laziness on the part of Usain Bolt relative to his preparation for competition. If this is indeed the case then one must wonder what his achievements would be should he begin to take training more seriously.
While undoubtedly Bolt is the best thing to be seen on an athletics track since Jesse Owens in the 1930s there is concern in many quarters that as yet there does not seem to be a well orchestrated marketing plan for this outstanding athlete.
Unlike some of the great American and European athletes Bolt is yet to become seriously involved in endorsements deals of their order.
There is the matter of schooling that appears to have been quite limited. While we do not expect Bolt to be suddenly taken through the education system in terms of scholarship we certainly hope that attention would be given to at least helping him to be proficient in the use of the English Language.
Some former athletes have acknowledged that his performances lay q sound foundation for marketing Bolt. However, to reap the immense benefits commensurate with his potential as an athlete there must be more work done with him.
Bolt is as yet a long way from the articulate Roger Federer or Tiger Woods. This is a feature that requires great work.
To date Bolt displays a distinctly youthful air that bodes well for him but marketing requires much more.
As yet we have not seen many Caribbean companies rushing forward to allow for his endorsements, something that reminds us of the backwardness of our own indigenous entrepreneurs.
As it now stands, Bolt is replete with marketing potential but this has yet to be translated into the mega bucks and internationalising of the individual that we have witnessed with other remarkable athletes.
Importantly, while decades ago the sport of Cricket was the embodiment of the capacities of our Caribbean people, the time has come when we must acknowledge that generally, in the realm of athletics we have long since surpassed Cricket.
The overwhelming number of Caribbean male and female athletes who made it to the semi finals (including our own Kineke Alexander in the 400m) of the sprints at these World Championships in Berlin is ample testimony to the seemingly endless possibilities for our region on the world scene.
Due recognition of the extent to which our sporting heroes have made the Caribbean known to the world is still forthcoming.
Let us hope that Bolt’s latest achievements constitute a wake up call.