I have been saying for years that the most remarkable thing about this remarkable young man is his character. Now lest anyone point out his faults, let’s all agree that he is human and as the Bible says, “There is none good but God.” But it is said that we know the measure of a man or a woman in his or her lowest hour and darkest day. If that is so, we now can say we know Usain Bolt.
Saturday, August 5 was slated to be the day of his last solo race in a career that has spanned more than 15 years of competitive racing. Much has been written about his storied World Championships, world records and Olympic titles. The world is still talking about his gold medals from the 2016 Olympics in Brazil and so much was expected for his last and final race—the World Championships in London. Millions of fans were ready and so was Bolt. In an interview in The Jamaican Observer before the race, he said: “It’s a championship, it is a final. So it’s all about who can keep their nerves and who is ready to be challenged. I have been here many times and I am the one ready. So it’s go time, so I am good.”
Well, he was ready to win but he did not win, not this time. He did not win the 100 meter World Championships race but I contend that he did not have a finer moment than what he did AFTER he lost. American sprinter Justin Gatlin took first place and Christian Coleman took second. Bolt found himself in third place with a bronze medal. To think, he finishes third in his last solo race ever! In the last competitive race of his life when he is slated to go out in style; when there are celebratory parties awaiting his win; when there are likely sponsors creating new products to mark his singular achievement; when there are over 60,000 fans in a London stadium to see history in the making…
And then he loses! He loses. There must be a mistake, we were all thinking. Surely this was just a heat, not the final race. This is not how it was supposed to end, but it did. And what did Bolt do? In his most difficult professional hour, he walked over to the winner, Justin Gatlin, who by now was being booed all across the stadium, and embraced him. He whispered in his ear: “Congratulations, you worked hard for this, and you don’t deserve all these boos.”
It was a beautiful moment from a man who is the picture of grace and humanity. Gatlin, to his credit, bowed in a ceremonial manner in tribute to the Jamaican sprint king. A couple of years ago, I was fortunate to have a lengthy conversation with Bolt and I can still remember his words: “ I live to inspire.” That is what makes this man- a competitive athlete committed to God, family and the Jamaican countryside – that is what makes him tick.
And so here he was again, inspiring a generation in loss as much as he has inspired in victory.
Thank you Usain Bolt. Thank you. It’s been a good run.
We are looking forward to the other chapters of your life.
Anne C. Bailey
New book: The Weeping Time: Memory and the Largest Slave Auction in American History ( forthcoming October 2017, Cambridge University Press)