Usain Bolt after winning the 200m at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015 (© AFP / Getty Images)
Usain Bolt no longer has any need to worry about his athletics legacy.
Nine Olympic gold medals (six individual, three relay) and 11 World Championships gold medals (seven individual, four relay) will take care of that. If his CV needed further burnish, the first two of his individual sprint doubles, in Beijing in 2008 and Berlin a year later, were all won in world record times.
“I don’t need to prove anything else,” Bolt said in Rio in August after securing his third Olympic 200m gold medal. “What else can I do to prove to the world I am the greatest?”
Such a body of work has, naturally, garnished many honours along the way. Most recently, Bolt was named World Athlete of the Year for a record sixth time at the IAAF Athletics Awards 2016 in Monaco. Speaking to the press before the award, he had said the prospect of winning a sixth was the same as winning his first.
“When you get to be athlete of the year, it means that all the hard work has paid off. So, if I can win it for a sixth year, it would definitely mean as much as the first one.”
Bolt declared himself an athletics legend after his second Olympic individual sprint double in London in 2012.
Back then, Bolt put a finger to his lips as he crossed the finish line in the 200m ahead of compatriot Yohan Blake.
The gesture, he said later, “was for all those people who said I was going to win, that I was going to be a legend.
“Well, they can stop talking now. I am a living legend.”
Bolt’s third Olympic sprint double in Rio this year saw him elevated even higher.
“Someone said I can become immortal,” Bolt said after winning the 100m in Rio. “Two more medals to go and I can sign off. Immortal.” He won those two medals, of course.
World records are an increasingly unlikely possibility. Bolt has said he will run only the 100m and relay at what will be his last World Championships in London next year. That rules out the 200m: in any case, he has already conceded that a sub-19 or world record is beyond him.
“After last season I figured out that no matter how hard I work at this point it’s going to be hard to get the 200m world record,” Bolt said in Monaco.
The 100m remains tantalisingly within reach. Maybe. Given his history, an injury-free season for Bolt is perhaps a pipedream, but he believes “anything is possible” in the shorter sprint if he is blessed with one.
All of which raises the inevitable question: what does a living legend, with no need to prove anything else, with personal bests largely off the agenda, do for an encore?
Simple – he turns his focus to the next generation.
When Bolt was asked in Melbourne last month what remaining ambitions he had in mind, he replied: “inspiration”.
“I live to inspire others,” Bolt said.
Bolt enjoys the fact there are others who might run because of him, others who might run better because of him (and, presumably, one someday who will run faster) and others still who might just do the sport at their own level because of him.
“It’s a great feeling knowing that I can inspire others to want to do great things,” Bolt said.
Bolt was in Melbourne as a guest at the Melbourne Cup carnival and to launch Nitro Athletics, a team-based athletics competition aimed at attracting a new fan-base.
Bolt will captain the Bolt All-Stars, one of the six teams.
“This is the right move forward,” said Bolt of the new competition. “I’m going to be part of a team – 12 males, 12 females. It’s going to be very exciting.”
Bolt reiterated his enthusiasm for team competition at a media conference in Monaco when he nominated the Beijing 2008 Olympic 4x100m gold medal with his Jamaican teammates as one of his career highlights.
Asked about the Australian team competition, Bolt said he liked the fact that the contribution of each team member counted towards the result.
“I’m really excited to work with other people who have to contribute to help you.”
At the launch, Bolt had promised to deliver “track and field as it’s never been seen before. That’s why I’m involved, not only as a competitor, but also as a team captain.”
The nationally televised Nitro Athletics series will take place over three meetings in Melbourne on 4, 9 and 11 February 2017.
Len Johnson for the IAAF