It’s been a pretty difficult weekend, to say the least.
As the regulars know, I’ve been a Jamaican first for as long as I can remember. I’ve been a sports fan second, in that time as well. One of the most difficult things for a successful athletes to do is deciding WHEN to retire. Once one has reached the pianncle of their sport, the uber successful athletes always want to “leave on their own terms”, code word for leaving in a winning moment.
With his bronze finish in the 100M and subsequent injury in the 4x100M final at the 2017 European championships, Usain Bolt has joined the more common list of athletes to have left their sport “not on their own terms”. It’s sad, really…but not as unremarkable or uncommon in its occurrence.
Very few get to leave in that pinnacle; the fabled moment of final victory. The most recent pro athlete to retire in a title clinching moment that initially comes to mind was Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens and Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos a few years ago. Too often we see sense of either crushing defeats, injuries, personal life trauma or the most sudden of ends – a lack of interest in the athlete’s talents.
“Did he hang around too long?” That’s what we all ask whenever the legends exit in an less than graceful manner.
As someone who has watched many sports closely, it’s so hard to see the greats struggle with when it is their time to leave. You can tell as a fan that in many cases it is a mix of luck, otherworldly talent and superhuman drive that separates the legends from the very good athletes. We always root for them to go out on top, but that’s rarely the case.
Track and field (like boxing) has always had its dance with performance enhancing scandals. I remember being old enough to see when Jamaican born Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson set the world on fire with the first sub 9.80 second time in the 100M, only to fall to doping. Marion Jones, Justin Gatlin and countless others have suffered a similar disgrace. Like Michael Johnson before him, Bolt has been dogged by similar whispers that I’m sure will get a little louder after this tragic incident.
The one thing I’ve learned as a sports fan is that Father Time is the only one that goes undefeated. Records are meant to be broken and debates over who is the “Greatest of All Time” in barbershops, empty classrooms, bars, and betting parlors will rage on forever. For all the showmanship, I’ll remember Bolt more fondly for the class he showed in his last completed race which was as impressive as any win.
He was, at the end, just unable to beat Father Time; no athlete ever has, really. Perhaps being a long-standing sports fan gives me perspective of what it is like to see all time great in action. No one actively recalls Jordan’s time in MLB or with the Wizards; no one claims Peyton Manning’s final Superbowl season as illustrious; no one revels in Tiger Woods’ recently string of injuries and no so recent personal tragedies. For me, it’s the same with Bolt; you acknowledge his 2004 and 2017 performances as a part of his career and are dazzled by what happened between those less than stellar episodes.
You did your sport and country proud, Bolt. You re-energized a proud sporting nation and propelled its stellar track and field legacy into the eyes of millennials. Capturing the hearts and minds of new fans, and evoking the glory days of Donald Quarrie, Merlene Ottey and many others, you reminded the world of what a little Land of Wood and Water will always have to offer the global village.
That’s the best salute that can be given to you, as we bid you farewell.