ON a very rare occasion in sports history, the bronze medalist received much more cheers and applause than the winner.
Jamaican “lightning” Usain Bolt lost his first-ever world championships final to his rivals, in the last 100m race of his career last Saturday, while 35-year-old American Justin Gatlin, 2005 world champion, emerged the surprise winner in 9.92 seconds, 0.03 seconds ahead of Bolt.
“The place is wonderful and I appreciated this crowd so much. It is just one of those things, thank you to London for all your love and appreciation,” said Bolt, who was treated by the capacity crowd and the organizers as a winner, receiving undimished cheers and applause from the adoring spectators and doing the lap of honor as if he had won.
After the race, Gatlin bowed down to Bolt as if saluting a king or being remorseful for ruining the Jamaican’s chance of ending his career with a record fourth gold medal in the blue-ribbon 100m.
Bolt admitted he was disappointed but would never change his idea of retiring because the new life ahead is more inviting.
“I told you guys whatever happens this season I’d come out and do my best. I did it for the fans. I worked hard, I’m definitely disappointed I didn’t win, but no one is going to be happy to not win,” said Bolt after the race.
“It doesn’t change anything, for me. I think I lost to a great competitor and a young kid who is coming up and is very talented, with a great future ahead of him. No regrets, I came out and did my best; win lose or draw. I was always going to walk away. I’ve done all I can for the sport, so it’s time to go,” he added.
“I’m excited to just live normally and get up and know that I have no training for once and can do what I want. I will miss the sport for sure, but I get a chance to live and travel when I want. I don’t know where I will go or where my career will go, but it’s exciting,” he said.
Although missing out on a golden finish in the individual race, Bolt, turning 31 next week, will still stand as the greatest sprinter in history.
For a decade, he has been this intimidating figure on the track for his opponents — winning all the Olympic or world championship finals he was in, except one hiccup when he false started in the 100m final in Daegu world championships in 2011.
As his career extends, Bolt keeps making history, storming to eight Olympic golds and 11 world titles and holds the world records of 9.58 seconds in the 100m and 19.19 seconds in the 200m.
His legendary achievements were well recognized by the sports world as he was named IAAF Athlete of The Year six times and was a four-time Laureus Awards winner.
Athletics’ world governing body head Sebastian Coe lavished with praises for him.
“He is the best sprinter of all time,” the British said a few days ago. “Usain Bolt is a genius. I can’t think, other than Muhammad Ali, of anybody that has so had an impact inside or beyond their sport.
“You can have the Friday-night-in-the-pub conversations about who is best footballer or tennis player, but there is no argument about this guy in sprinting.”
Admirations also come from Bolt’s peers. World and Olympic champion Allyson Felix spoke highly of the Jamaican.
“I think he’s really changed the sport, he’s brought a lot of excitement, he’s a performer and we can all just appreciate it, everything he’s done and given to this sport,” she said at a pre-competition conference.
Bolt has won the affection of so many not just with his feats but also a charismatic personality.
Growing a goatee may give him a touch of maturity while he would still give the big innocent grin at the cameras on the starting line, joke with Hero the Hedgehog and flash thumbs-up sign to the crowd and make his trademark pose of shooting off invisible arrows despite the third place finish.
As Coe put it, what the crowd is going to miss is the personality, an athlete with humor, good grace as well as almost insurmountable sprinting achievements.
“We do want athletes with personality. It’s nice to have someone who has a view and fills the room and fills a stadium,” Coe said about Bolt who has 4,762,800 followers on Twitter and 18,775,000 followers on Facebook.
Now Bolt is officially retiring, and the sport is left with a huge void for losing its most dazzling star.