London 2017: Usain Bolt is a beacon of light in athletics’ darkest days

The word ‘legend’ is thrown about all too often these days, but in some cases no superlative is enough.

But, for the best part of a decade, one man has stood out above the rest.

He has been the brightest beacon of light in athletics’ darkest days, a beacon that dimmed with one final determined flicker here in London.

Usain Bolt recently bade farewell to the sport whose weight he has held on his shoulders as it battled against the greatest of struggles.

His success on the track of the Olympic Stadium will forever define London 2012. But this is a sport in crisis.

One in seven of all finalists that summer have been caught doping before or since, more than a third of finalists are connected to doping and while Russia are the worst offenders, Bolt’s own Jamaican team doesn’t escape censure.

But – for one night only – perhaps we could allow ourselves to just glory in the moment, as Bolt took in one final lap of honour in the place in which he solidified his status as the greatest of all time.

Granted, his final World Championships didn’t exactly go as the script had entailed – missing out on the 100m title to Justin Gatlin and pulling up injured in the relay.

But, as more than 55,000 people took to their feet to salute the hero of a generation, it was apparent his legacy is far more than just his feats on the track – he is a king of the people.

“For me, the lap was brilliant. The support hasn’t changed,” said Bolt, struggling to keep his emotions in check as he waved goodbye.

“It is sad that I have to walk away now. The energy of crowd was great. I feel so at home and welcome here.

“I was saying goodbye to fans and saying goodbye to my events, I’ve dominated them for years. They have been everything to me. I almost cried, but it didn’t come.

“One championship doesn’t change what I’ve done. I have shown my credentials throughout my career so losing my last race isn’t going to change what I’ve done in my sport.

“I’ve proven that by working hard, anything is possible. I personally feel this is a good message to send to youngsters to push on.

“If I can leave that to the younger generation, then that’s a good legacy to leave.”

It has been an era of the sport that, for many years to come, will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

Bolt himself has been a victim of it – his relay gold medal from Beijing 2008 stripped away when Jamaican team-mate Nesta Carter tested positive in China.

Many saw Bolt as the only one who could save the sport, but yet even he fears for its future, warning athletics will ‘die’ if dopers continue to destroy its reputation.

So as the curtain falls on its hero’s time on the track, where does world athletics go from here?

“I have always been strong on doping,” he said.

“I’ve said it, athletes should get life bans if you go out of your way to cheat an athlete. The sport is now on the way back up and we have to do everything to keep it in a good light.

“I’ve shown that you can do it without doping so that’s what I hope the young athletes will take from it.”

Beijing was his birth, London his coming of age and Rio his swan song, yet while Bolt’s feats on the track could never be described as anything less than remarkable, it’s his personality off it that has catapulted him into a different stratosphere.

Try as you might, it’s impossible not to like the man – his persona one that is so desperately craved by other sports the world round.

His very presence raises a wry smile, the not knowing of what is about to come next.

The talk this week has been about who will fill his size 13 spikes. But away from the stadiums, the arenas, and the training tracks, it could take some time.

Bolt exits the stage, his successor unknown, much like the future of his sport. Lightning doesn’t strike twice.

You can help the next generation of young British athletes by getting involved in SportsAid Week this September with London 2012 hero Greg Rutherford MBE. Find out more about how you can support the week of fun and fundraising by visiting

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