The stars came out for Usain Bolt on Tuesday, as the fastest man on earth took a last bow before the press ahead of his final competitive race at the World Championships in London on Saturday.
At a press conference in central London, a pre-recorded video shown to journalists saw stars of sports, stage and screen pay tribute to the athlete, as Bolt looked on. “Damn brother, hate to see you go. I know that you know when the time is right,” said Hollywood star Samuel L. Jackson. Actors Idris Elba and Cara Delevingne, and soccer player Thierry Henry were also among the dignitaries chipping in thanks and congratulations. “I’m so impressed by you brother, an exemplary athlete. But I also think you’re an amazing human being. You’ve inspired so many to work harder and run faster,” Elba said.
Speaking ahead of his retirement following the 100m finals on Aug. 5, Bolt told the media he wanted to go out at the pinnacle of his sport. “Unbeatable, you know what I mean,” he said. “Usain Bolt is unbeatable over an individual event. Relays you never know, but for me that will be the headline. Unbeatable, unstoppable.” But he refused to indulge in speculation about his main competition in that race, commenting that he had to race all seven men. That includes Canadian sprinter Andre de Grasse, who came third behind Bolt in the 100m and second in the 200m at last year’s Olympic Games and has run 9.69s this season. Bolt’s World record stands at 9.58s.
Bolt said back in November that the 2017 London championships would be his last, as he wanted to retire before he “embarrassed” himself. This time round he’s not even competing in the 200m. The eight-time gold medallist can run at 13.2m per second at top speed, a talent that has also earned him 11 world titles and six world records since he first competed in the World Championships in 2007. He believes he’s earned the title of sporting legend, he said. “Now that I’ve got to my goal I’m comfortable saying that I’m a legend because I’ve proven myself. I’m confident on the track when I compete but off the track I’m just as simple as I can be.”
Aged just 30, Bolt is vague about how he wants to spend his long retirement. On Tuesday he ruled out becoming a movie star but said that he knows he wants to play a lot of soccer with his friends. He joked that he is still waiting for a call-up from Manchester United soccer manager Jose Mourinho. He said that he also wants to travel the world to visit young athletes and coaches to inspire them to compete on the same level that he has. Yet before the retirement comes the race, and with the race, a final pair of running spikes.
These running spikes elicited a strange climax to the press conference. Bolt revealed that they were green and purple after the colors of his old school, with a touch of gold to represent all his glory. Then, as a surprise, Bolt’s parents were brought on stage to present those spikes to him. His mother, smiling brightly, said she was so excited at the way that her son had inspired people around the world. “Hard work pays off,” she said. “If you fall by the wayside, get up and carry on.”
Maybe one day Bolt will be as proud of his future children as his parents evidently are of him. In the meantime, he said, he can only hope that the records he’s broken throughout his career remain for the next generation to marvel at. “I want to brag to my kids when they’re 15 or 20, ‘look I am still the best’.”