By Robert Taylor, Special to Trackalerts.Com
With Bolt talking about retirement, the questions are what happen after and who will be the next sprint king. We all know Bolt cannot dominate for more than the next four years much less forever. Like the lion in the jungle who rules his pride until he gets old. Then the young lion move in and take over. A similar situation with 100m champions on the professional level.
The challenger was Asafa Powell, Tyson Gay, Justin Gatlin and Yohan Blake. All with the exception of Blake is at least three years older than Bolt. They have yet to give Bolt much of a competition in a championship since 2008. Unlike the others, Blake has youth on his side, which is not saying much if he is not able to break or run close enough to the 9.58 and 19.19. A 19.26 and 19.44 say he is in the vicinity of the 200m. As for the 100m, a 9.69 is not close enough to the 9.58. As I said, Blake has youth and who is to tell if he has fully maximized his potential yet. The only problem I see is the injury woes that afflicted Asafa and Gay as they seek to threaten and usurp Bolt. Blake is having his share of injury too.
Outside of the question of performance, does anyone possess charisma similar to what Bolt brings to the table? When Bolt retires, the problem for the men will be two fold. One, will anyone be able to run at or above his level. The other will be how to overcome the huge shadow of personality he holds over the sport. People turn up to see Bolt win whether he ran a fast time or not they all cheer regardless. Just his name mentioned and the crowd shouts like teenage girls following their pop music idol. The 2010 Penn Relays was my first live experience of the Bolt effect. As soon as his race was over, the people started to move for the exit, even though there were more races to run.
At the Daegu 2011 world championship, many of the spectators got up and left when Bolt was disqualified. The 100m final was still to be started but they did not care. Athletics do not have a huge hard-core fan base around the world like that of say Cricket or Football. A significant amount of athletic fans is casual fans to say the least. Blake won the finals in 2011 with a very good time after considering the condition, yet many choose to think of Bolt disqualification instead of Blake’s victory. The shadow of Bolt was too overpowering to overcome.
To those who think otherwise, look at Yohan Blake 2012 performances and the number of sub-9.80 seconds he ran. It is one of the greatest year any sprinter ever had, yet how many recognize it. Hardcore athletics fan will but no one else. Blake ran a 9.69, two 9.75’s and a 9.76. In 2008 Bolt ran 9.69, 9.72, 9.76 and 9.77. Without taking wind reading and condition into consideration Bolt was better since this was the year Bolt not only won Olympic gold medals but in some of the races it was evident he could have gone faster. Nevertheless, Blake season was one for the ages yet I have not come across one sports journal express the quality of the performances. In 2009, Gay ran a 9.69, 9.71 and 9.77, like Blake his performances suffered anonymity because of Bolt.
Fast forward to Bolt retirement, who will be able to garner the passion from the fans? Who will have the personality to match the quality performance needed? When Bolt said he wants to be an icon like Michael Jordan, Pele and Ali, I am afraid that the next champion or the next sprint king might suffer what I call a Larry Holmes syndrome. I hope I am wrong. Those who are boxing historian or who follow heavy weight boxing will understand my point. Larry Holmes came right after Mohammed Ali and though he was a dominating champion, he never got the recognition he deserved. It was all about “the Greatest”. The charisma and media coverage Ali drew kept Holmes in the shadow when it came to the limelight. If Holmes had come any other time, people would be talking about how great a heavy weight champion he was. Coming at the end of Ali was too much for him to overcome.
For the next three years if it goes as Bolt is saying, fans will line up to see Bolt. If his retirement happens, then my question is who will be the next sprint king. In most of the world, athletics will thrive. I am wondering if the next sprint King can penetrate the US lack of coverage and its huge market potential. Penetrating the US market with more coverage than Bolt would be a huge coup for that athlete and athletics on a whole. Unfortunately, at this point, Usain Bolt is the only recognizable name on the US sports stations. Hoping his retirement does not cast such a huge shadow whereby it leads to a Larry Holmes situation.
**The views expressed in this article are those of the author (Robert Taylor) and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, trackalerts.com