Bolt the Only Man in Ali's League; World Athletics Championships

Daily Mail (London), August 12, 2017 | Go to article overview

Bolt the Only Man in Ali's League; World Athletics Championships


Byline: MARTIN SAMUEL Chief Sports Writer

WE'RE missing him already, obviously. Now Usain Bolt has surrendered his place at the summit of athletics to a drugs cheat in the sprint, and a runner whose nationality went on sale to the highest bidder in the 200 metres, the sport already knows what it has lost.

When he steps off the track for the final time in London tonight, it will be the end of a sporting era defined by Bolt's presence. Who knows when we will see its like again? Before Bolt, there was Muhammad Ali, the last great athlete to transcend the arena and captivate the globe. 'Ali could gaze out of airplane windows, down at Lagos, down at Paris and Madras, and be assured that almost everyone alive knew who he was,' wrote David Remnick in his biography, King of the World.

As social media shrinks our planet, a rising number of sport's celebrities can boast that. Yet Cristiano Ronaldo, even Lionel Messi, could not claim to be universally loved, as Ali was, or Bolt is.

That love, that humanity, is what sets them apart. There are great sporting men and women, there always will be. But two share the pinnacle. Like Ali before him, Bolt is everybody's guy. His is a universal fan club, an appeal beyond mere admiration, or even hero worship. He belongs to us all. His character steps out of the film we are watching and speaks. This is what we lose when he runs his last tonight.

Not just a supreme athlete, but the sportsman of a lifetime. And not just of this generation, but of previous and future generations, too. There was a quarter of a century between Ali and Bolt. There could be that again between Bolt and his successor; maybe even longer.

Watching the sport attempt to promote Wayde van Niekerk as worthy of Bolt's inheritance is pitiful. Van Niekerk is a good runner. We've seen good runners. Athletics meetings are full of them. Bolt was different; Bolt was a shooting star. It was his personality that strode away from the field, the connection he made with the wider world that cannot be captured or replaced. Someone else will win the 100m. Someone will always win the 100m. But that someone cannot be Bolt; just as no heavyweight champion since -- and there have been many good ones -- has ever been Ali.

Between his last fight against Trevor Berbick on December 11, 1981 and Bolt's first Olympic gold at the 2008 Games in Beijing, was a stretch of 26 years. There were incredible sporting feats and individuals in that time. Michael Jordan played out his entire career; Tiger Woods won all of his majors. Yet neither man, legends of the game, commanded the global gaze like Bolt or Ali.

THEIR sports have much to do with it. What events have the universality of a fight or a foot race? Simple, pure, familiar to every citizen of every nation. …

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