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From Trelawny to the world — Bolt the legend

The Sporting Edge

Paul Reid

Thursday, August 10, 2017

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In February 1999 the COCAA Boys' Western Champs was held at William Knibb Memorial in Martha Brae, Trelawny, and the big clash was to have been between the host's Marvin Anderson and Munro College's Paul Thompson, the enigmatic sprinter/long jumper/goalkeeper in the boys' Class 1 100m and 200m finals.

Very few people noticed a long-legged Class 3 athlete - also from William Knibb, in baggy shorts. And it was only later while trying to put together what would later come to be accepted, as the records for Western Champs, did I see the name Usain Bolt.

He might have been mentioned in the overall story as the bronze medallist in the 80m hurdles — I can't recall now. But, as fate would have it, I was front at centre and some of the milestones to what would become one of the greatest sprint careers in the history of track and field.

On Saturday Bolt ran his final individual race, the 100m final at the IAAF World Championships now underway in London.

We were all hoping for a fairy-tale ending - a win, then riding off in the sunset — but as fate would have it, Bolt got the bronze, finally beaten by his American nemesis Justin Gatlin.

It all started that February day in 1999 when Bolt high jumped over the hurdles for his first medal in high school that would lead to the most mind-boggling times ever captured on the track - 9.58 seconds in the 100m and 19.19 seconds in the 200m in Berlin, Germany in 2009.

Early in 2002, after starting to make a name for himself locally, Bolt ran a hand-timed 20.3 seconds to win the Class 2 200m at Western Champs on the newly laid Mondo track at Catherine Hall, St James.

The time was so impressive that many people who were not there ridiculed the time. Then a few weeks later, at the CARIFTA Trials at GC Foster in St Catherine, one coach openly and loudly questioned the honesty of the western track officials.

All the young Bolt did was to run 20.3 seconds again, this time with electronic timing and a wind gauge to silence the doubting Thomas and perhaps, even more importantly, vindicating the time keepers from western Jamaica, who were then using manual stop watches.

I was fortunate to witness his run at the IAAF World Junior Championships at the National Stadium later that year, which propelled Bolt into international stardom.

I was at trackside the next year at the ISSA Boys' Champs when, running in heavy rain, he won the 400m, leaving his friend Germaine Gonzales in a literal heap on the track.

A few years later, in 2008, I was among a few hundred who stayed through a three-hour rain delay in New York and was rewarded with a magnificent 9.72 seconds world record, the first of many.

Later that year I had a front row seat in Monaco when Bolt won his first of several IAAF Athlete of the Year award.

Four years later in 2012, my seat on the media tribune was three rows from trackside, where the world witnessed yet another master class of sprinting at the London Olympic Games. This time Bolt shrugged off early season issues to retain his 100m/200m double, setting an Olympic record 9.63 seconds in the 100m and leading the Jamaican team to a world record in the 4x100m.

We were in Moscow a year later, when he won yet another treble his redemption from the debacle in Deagu, South Korea, two years earlier, his only false start of his career that cost him another treble.

Bolt's retirement from competitive track and field had been announced from last year and this season has looked like a farewell tour more than a season at his very best.

Gatlin said that he thinks Bolt will eventually get bored and come out of retirement, but I beg to differ. Had he been allowed to retire after the Rio Olympic Games, when he really wanted to go, I could see him coming back for the 2019 World Championships.

Bolt turns 31 in two week's time and it is difficult seeing him coming back in 2019 after just one year away, and certainly in 2020 when he will be 34 years old.

So it seems one of the greatest chapters in sports history will close after the 4x100m relays on Saturday, and we will all tell our grandchildren that we were there to see the greatest sprinter in history.

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