London, Aug 13 (PTI) Irony was at its cruellest as Usain Leo Bolt pulled up hurt in his final competitive race to end, in a cry of pain and agony, a decade of dominance that is unrivalled in the history of track and field.
Bolt failed to finish the men’s 4x100m relay race of the World Athletics Championships here after he pulled a hamstring at the home straight.
The astonishing turn of events marred what was expected to be a golden farewell.
Running the final race of his career, the 30-year-old Bolt, after taking the baton from his Jamaican teammate Yohan Blake, suffered cramps on his left hamstring as he tried, in vain, to chase down the British and American rivals in the last lap of the race.
Needing to make a lot of ground, Bolt began his familiar initial long strides but could not produce the trademark explosive burst of speed and suddenly stumbled, hobbled a few strides before falling on the track in pain and agony.
“It’s cramp in his left hamstring but a lot of pain is from disappointment from losing the race. The last three weeks have been hard for him. We hope for the best for him,” Jamaican team doctor Kevin Jones said later.
It was a terrible sight at the Olympic stadium, the theatre of his three gold winning exploits in the 2012 Olympic Games. Bolt went down on his knees with hands on his head in dejection and was then lying alone on the tracks for a while before Blake and the other teammates, Julian Forte and Omar McLeod, gathered around him.
The towering Jamaican, who had dominated the sprint race like nobody else, was helped to his feet. As he limped over the finishing line, the crowd applauded him.
The result sheet, however, showed DNF (Did Not Finish) against the Jamaicans.
The scene this weekend was more heartbreaking than last Saturday when Bolt was beaten by his long-time rival Justin Gatlin in the 100m dash in his last individual race.
The last time, Bolt took a lap of honour to acknowledge the support and adulation of the crowd. But this time, there was no lap of honour and with Britain winning the gold, the crowd gave more attention to their home heroes and Bolt disappeared to the medical room.
For that matter, there was no kissing of the finish line nor the celebrated “Lightening Bolt’ pose, which fans around the world got used to all these years. The showman actually did not turn up on this night.
In fact, it looked like the lap of honour he took while winning the bronze in the 100m dash on August 5 would be his final farewell to the crowd. But it is learnt that the IAAF and local organisers have decided to arrange a lap of honour on the final day of the championships.
Britain won the gold in 37.47 seconds while United States (38.01) and Japan took the silver and bronze respectively.
Bolt would have had his task cut out, if he did not suffer the injury, to fight his way into the gold medal picture, as he was some three meters behind the British counterpart when he took the baton from Blake.
Gatlin, who was booed by the London crowd for snatching the gold medal from Bolt in the 100m, paid a tribute to his rival.
“Usain Bolt is a great athlete. I am sorry he got this injury. I think it was the elements. But he is still the best in the world,” said Gatlin.
“You can’t let these championships define what he has done in the past. He has done amazing things. He’s still the man, you know. The was his farewell race and we wish him the best and hope he recovers soon,” added the American who ran the second leg in the relay race.
“Usain’s name will always live on,” Bolt’s team-mate Omar McLeod, who ran the first leg, said.
Bolt ended the World Championships in disappointment by collecting just a bronze but he will still be considered the greatest sprinter of all time and saviour of a sport for long mired in doping controversies.
No man has ever dominated sprint like Bolt since he won a gold each in the 100m and 200m in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and for nearly 10 years, he strode like a colossus with his running prowess and charisma.
He has won eight Olympic and 11 World Championships gold medals before coming here.
He has won three gold each in all three Olympics he has taken part, but returned the gold he won in 4x100m relay in Beijing after team-mate Nesta Carter tested positive for a prohibited substance. He has won three gold in all World Championships from 2009 till this edition, except the 100m event in 2011, when he false started to be disqualified.
He has also won a silver each in 200m and 4x100m relay in the 2007 Osaka World Championships. Taking into account the bronze in 100m here, he has won 22 medals in Olympics and World Championships taken together, with 19 of them gold.
The ‘Muhammed Ali of Athletics’, as christened by world athletics body boss Sebastian Coe, Bolt is one of the most charismatic athletes across all sports and he would be remembered as someone who has brought more fans to athletics at a time when public cynicism of the sport was on the rise due to doping controversies.
The latest — and the biggest — controversy to hit athletics was the Russian scandal in which the country was accused of systematic state-sponsored doping programme.
Despite these scandals, Bolt kept the fans intact, his exploits and charisma brought more youngsters to the sport, a fact Coe has admitted.
Bolt’s successes are unprecedented and all the short sprint records are his. He holds the 100m (9.58 seconds) and 200m (19.19 seconds) world records — both of them set during the 2009 Berlin World Championships.
Since 2007, he has run 54 100m races (excluding heats) and won all but six. In 200m races since 2008, he has lost just one out of 30.
He emerged as a prodigious talent for the first time by winning the 200m as a 15-year-old in the 2002 World Junior Championships at his hometown Kingston. He then won another 200m gold in the World Youth Championships in Canada. Bolt’s young career was, however, rocked by injuries for a few years, but he came back stronger in 2006.
Bolt was initially thought to be more suited to run in 200m and 400m as he had difficulty in smoothly starting out of the blocks but, in 2007, his celebrated coach Glenn Mills, who has been with him since 2005, allowed him to run the 100m.
In his native Jamaica, he is the most well-known athlete — and possibly the most famous public figure. Thousands turned out in his domestic farewell event in Kingston earlier this year.
His exit from the competitive stage — though the IAAF wants him to be associated as global brand ambassador — will bring shudders to athletics bosses.
Bolt’s clean image has been a contrast to his long-time rival Gatlin, who is considered the opposite of the Jamaican.
And the IAAF has banked on the Jamaican’s clean image to shield the dope-tainted sport.
One of the richest sportspersons in the world, he reportedly earns more than USD 30 million a year, mostly through endorsements.
The greatest entertainer that athletics — perhaps all sports — have known, Bolt, unlike Ali, has rarely given opinions on issues beyond sport.
But the Jamaican wants to coin superlatives about himself like the boxing legend, and fans and media lapped up the idea.
Just before this championships, he had demanded that the world write one last headline about him — “Unbeatable.
Just after his 200m triumph at the 2012 London Olympics, he had declared, “I am a living legend. Bask in my glory!” The world will continue to bask in his glory!
This is published unedited from the PTI feed.