SALUTE THE KING

Regardless of IOC President Rogges views, Bolt has proved that he belongs to the pantheon of greats

SALUTE THE KING

Usain Bolt has no doubt he is a legend of his sport. Many fans of track and field as well as experts felt he was already one even before he stepped on to the track in London. But the President of the International Olympic Committee begs to differ. Jacques Rogge has another view – he thinks Bolt needs to compete more and stay longer in the sport to be considered a legend.

Speaking just before Bolt attained his legendary status, according to himself, Rogge said he would wait and watch for more powerful performances from the Jamaican before getting convinced himself. In other words, spectacular performance across two Olympic Games, several other international competitions and two World Championships, isn’t enough in Rogge’s book for Bolt to be tagged a legend, in the same category as a Carl Lewis or a Steven Redgrave.

What makes a legend in sport? Is it a flash of brilliance that leaves a lasting impression? Or, is it sustained spells of success that is spread across several years? Bolt for one has no doubt about it. “I’ve got nothing left to prove. I’ve shown the world that I am the best. I am in the same category as Michael Johnson. I grew up watching him world records. He’s a great athlete. Right now, I am the greatest in my sport,” said Bolt after his 200M triumph.

The Jamaican has valid arguments to support his case. Bolt has been the face of athletics for the last four years, ever since he stormed the scene in 2008 and made the Beijing Games his coming out party. He won three gold medals in authoritative fashion, breaking world records in 100M and 200M besides starring in his team’s world record-breaking triumph in the 4x100M relay.

Two years later, he repeated his performances at the Berlin World Championships, turning in incredibly brilliant performances to sweep the sprint stakes with world records. And now, he has raised the bar again with victories in the 100 and 200, a feat no one has accomplished before in Olympic history.

It was three years ago in Berlin that Bolt laid bare his plans. He told the world’s media that he was looking at defending his titles and in his eyes, that was the benchmark for becoming a legend in his sport. “My goal is to become a legend in my sport. And for that, I need to defend my titles in London,” he had stated.

At that point in time, the task seemed a foregone conclusion. His path seemed smooth and no rivals were in sight. Bolt was the master of all he surveyed. He laid down the law in the fast lane. Such was the commanding nature of his victories that world records scattered at his mere sight.

Then came Daegu, that famous false start and fitness concerns. The rise of Yohan Blake and his twin defeats in the Jamaican trials altered the picture so much that when Bolt said, ‘this will be the moment, this will be the year when I set apart myself from other athletes in the world,’ those words begged for proof.

In a hot week’s sprinting in London, Bolt provided just that. His victory in 100M was a breeze. The 200 didn’t pose many problems either as he silenced his critics in his inimitable fashion, underlining the fact that when he is fit and ready, no one can really touch him.

Whatever challenge the world has thrown at him, Bolt has managed to tackle them, tide over them, and tower over them to be ranked in the company of a Mohammad Ali or a Michael Jordan or a Michael Johnson as a true great in the sporting arena. Besides, his world records – 9.58 seconds in the 100M and 19.19 in the 200 – stand as pinnacles of athletic achievement. To cap it all, he doesn’t sound arrogant and immodest when he proclaims himself to be a legend, unlike boxing great Ali, who rattled his rivals with his brash and bold talk of being the greatest.

In the long line of sporting greats, Ali and Bolt, perhaps, are the only ones who pinned the ‘greatest’ tag on themselves. Ali, who competed and won the gold in only one Olympics, was fighting more than just his rivals in the ring; he had to raise his voice against the injustices in the social system as well.

The heavyweight battler, as such, transcended his sport to become a true legend. Like Ali, Jesse Owens, considered one of the greatest Olympians of all time, too had just one Olympics to prove his class. And he did that in resplendent fashion, exploding many a myth en route to four gold medals in one Games, at Berlin in 1936. If one applies the test of multiple Olympics, where will Owens be in the IOC chief’s list?

Going by the same criterion, can we include Nadia Comaneci or Wilma Rudolph – two of the finest sportspersons in Olympic history – in the hall of legends? Nadia did compete in two Olympics winning five gold medals but the world knows her for her exploits at the Montreal Games of 1976 and that Perfect 10, just as Rudolph is known for her three-gold feat in 1960. The Rogge scale, as such, will also find many others falling short of the legendary mark, including marathon great Abebe Bikila, who ‘only’ won two gold medals in two Games – 1960 and 1964 and the one and only Jim Thorpe, who left his indelible mark at Stockholm in 1912.

Competing and winning in several Olympics and World Championships indeed is a mark of greatness but it certainly cannot be the only test to measure it. Several years from now, when one looks back at amazing sporting achievements, Bolt and his three-gold feat in Beijing are sure to stand out, along with many of his super human runs around the world. London 2012 was a test the Jamaican gave himself to find out where he stood. Can anyone say he hasn’t passed it with flying colours?

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