Usain Bolt took a last leisurely stroll around the track, placed his hands over his heart and then pointed toward the stands, where barely a soul had left. The running had been over for nearly 30 minutes but, as always, Bolt had a way of making everybody stay.
The world championships came to a sad ending on Sunday with a farewell tribute to the man who made the sport fun again. There were 11 gold medals at stake on the last day in London, and yet it was the sight of the old champion walking slowly around the track that made for the evening’s best theatre.
“I think I almost cried,” Bolt said. “I was just saying goodbye. That was it. Saying goodbye to my events. Saying goodbye to everything.”
The US says goodbye to London in possession of 30 medals, the most it has ever taken from the worlds. Of those, 10 were gold, including the capper in the women’s 4x400 relay final, where Allyson Felix won her 16th medal to finish as the most-decorated athlete of all-time at the worlds.
Felix also won gold in the 4x100 relay, but the bronze she took in her only individual event, the 400, makes this a less-than-perfect trip for her.
In that way, she’s got something in common with Bolt. Between the bronze medal in the 100, the hamstring pull and tumble to the track that ended his run during the 4x100 relay — the championships went nothing like he planned.
“Someone tried to blame me, and said I started it,” Bolt said of a 10-day run filled with surprises. “It was just one of those things. It was one of those championships where everything does not go your way.”
Even though all the performances were amazing in their own way, none of them carried the same amount of star power, or flair, as Bolt.
“What we’re going to miss about Usain Bolt isn’t the three back-to-back Olympic Games or the clutch of world records and medals,” said Sebastian Coe, the leader of track’s governing body, the IAAF. “It’s because he has an opinion. He has a view. He fills a room. We have terrific talent that’s identifying itself at these championships. But that’s not the same as filling that void.”
Bolt’s news conference overran by about 20 minutes. He discussed his past, the future and the sport he leaves behind.
He said he could see himself coaching track and stepping into the TV booth for the sport’s biggest events, but regarding a possible comeback, Bolt insists it will not happen.
“I’ve seen too many people retire and come back and make it worse and shame themselves,” he said. “I feel I won’t be one of those people.”
But he has no regrets about running in this competition or concerns that the results will tarnish his legacy. In a way, he said, the jaw-dropping losses were similar to the breathtaking wins: they showed that when he’s on the track, anything is possible.