His name is Usain Bolt, and he’s been sprinting his entire life. Over the last 12 years, he’s sped right into history as the most awarded track and field competitor in the history of organized sports. At Rio 2016, he competed as an Olympian for the fourth and final time.
These feats would be amazing enough on their own, but when you add in the fact that he has one leg shorter than the other (due to scoliosis), can smile while racing against the best in the world, set records and win Gold Medals with his shoelace untied, and survive an entire Olympic Games eating nothing but Chicken McNuggets, one can’t help but question everything we know about competitive sports.
Funnily enough, Usain Bolt didn’t start out as a runner, dividing his mischievous younger days between cricket and sprinting. It was only when his coaches noticed his amazing speed that he would enter, at the age of 14, into training under Pablo McNeil, a former runner who had represented Jamaica in 1964 and 1968 Olympics. When Bolt made headlines in 2002 at the age of 15 by becoming the youngest-ever winner of the 200m at the World Junior Championships in Kingston, Jamaica, McNeil said it wasn’t that big a surprise – he’d seen the youth complete 100m in 10.3 seconds that same year.
Nicknamed, “Lightning”, Bolt would amaze the athletics world with his accomplishments, but his greater glories would have to wait. Despite qualifying for his first Olympics in 2004, Bolt would leave Athens empty-handed due to nagging injuries. But Bolt never stopped smiling and striving to do his best, being counted among the world’s top five runners in 2005 and 2006.
In 2007, Bolt conquered Donald Quarrie’s 30-year old record for the 200m sprint, claiming two Silver medals at the World Championship in Osaka, Japan, in the process. Motivated with a greater desire to prove himself, Bolt set his sights on the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
It was at those Games in China that Bolt showed the entire world what he could do, setting a new world record in the Men’s 100m finals to claim Gold, a feat he accomplished despite slowing down to take in his win and, even more impressive, one of his shoelaces was untied. He would complete Beijing 2008 by breaking an additional 2 world records, surviving all the while on fast food because he found the local cuisine “odd”.
In 2012, after shattering all expectations with a further three Olympic Golds, Bolt told the world’s media, “”It’s what I came here to do. I’m now a legend. I’m also the greatest athlete to live. I’ve got nothing left to prove.”
But for the Olympian, competition was where he thrived, and he felt he could put in one more performance. In July of this year, however, that comeback was put in doubt by Bolt’s recurring ankle problems , along with a Grade 1 hamstring tear that forced him to pull out of his country’s 100m Olympic trials. On July 11, Bolt was allowed onto the Jamaican Olympic squad after applying for a medical exemption by proving he could train and compete. A mere two weeks later, Bolt silenced his doubters by claiming Gold in the 200m at the London Anniversary Games.
Looking none the worse for wear, Bolt said, of the then-upcoming Rio 2016, “I’m looking forward to it. I’m excited to go,” Bolt said. “This is where history is going to be made. I’m looking forward to going down there, doing my best, putting on a show.”
And put on a show, he did, handily claiming Olympic Golds in the 100m and 200m sprints, as well as the 200m relay, adding another three Olympic Golds to his existing six making for a triple treble of unbelievable proportions. Usain Bolt was now the most decorated track and field athlete of all time. Not bad for a young runner once chided by his teachers for being lazy.
To put into perspective how monumentally incredible Bolt’s accomplishments are, if one were to remove Bolt’s records from history, the top 26 fastest times run for the 100m were all accomplished by athletes who have failed a drug test at one point or another.
But none of it came easy; as Bolt himself says, “I am lucky that I have a lot of natural talent, but my success is all down to hard work. I could run under 10 sec now even if I didn’t really train, but to win medals it’s all about training on the track, working hard in the gym and improving my technique.”
When it comes to his legacy or how he’ll be remembered, Bolt isn’t concerned. As of this writing, he’s still off celebrating, having finally proposed marriage to his longtime girlfriend. Whatever he decides to do now, Usain Bolt can rest assured in the fact that he’s earned it.