A dream come true for Usain Bolt
The great Jamaican sprinter could be on the verge of fulfilling a lifelong personal goal.
by Tom Molnar
He is Olympic supremacy. An eight-time Olympic gold medalist. A world record holder in 100 metres, 200 metres and 4x100 metres relay. Needless to say, he is a sprint legend. However, Usain Bolt is looking to pursue something other than sprinting. After a stellar career that lasted over a decade, the man known as The Fastest Man on Earth has his hopes set on the world of football.
After training with Borussia Dortmund, South African club Sundowns and Norway’s Stromsgodset, the 31-year-old made his intentions clear and, on August 7th, the retired Jamaican sprinter joined Australian club Central Coast Mariners for an “indefinite training period”. No professional contract has been made yet, but Bolt hopes to make the Mariners’ squad for their season opener on October 21st. A big fan of Premier League side Manchester United, Bolt was open about his desire to play football professionally during his eight-year Olympic reign and it seems his figure would fit the game perfectly. Standing at 6-foot-5, he represents a rare combination of size and strength similar to LA Galaxy striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic. With the speed he has, he could be a real threat in the Australian A-League. However, his skills on the ball are still a work in progress.
Usain Bolt started his sprinting career professionally back in 2004 under the guidance of Fitz Coleman. Beginning with the CARIFTA Games, he became the first junior sprinter to run 200m in under twenty seconds with a time of 19.93s. This interested the Jamaican Olympic squad and Bolt headed to the 2004 Athens Olympics with confidence. However, the teenaged Bolt was hampered by a leg injury which caused him to be eliminated in the first round of the 200m. Despite this set back, between 2005 & 2007 Bolt properly exceled in his main event, the 200m sprint, including two silver medals at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, Japan. The success at the tournament boosted his desire to sprint and he worked at improving his mesmerising speed. The hard work paid off as he set a new 100m world record at the Reebok Grand Prix in the Ichan Stadium in New York City. He beat sprinting rival Tyson Gay, who said “It looked like his knees were going past my face”, referencing Bolt’s height advantage. After this, Bolt announced he’d compete in the 100m as well as the 200m in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where he gained world-wide fame. He breezed through the first and second rounds of the 100m and, in the Olympic final, broke new ground, winning in 9.69s. With a reaction time of 0.165s, he improved on his own world record set earlier in New York. Bolt then went on to win gold medals in both the 200m event and the 4x100m relay, breaking world records in each race and putting his gold medal total up to three. The Jamaican sprinter took the world by storm but didn’t stop there. At the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, Bolt cemented his status as a sprinting great. Racing once again against rival Tyson Gay, he could not be stopped in the 100m final and clocked a time of 9.58s, a new world record that stands to this day. If that wasn’t enough, Bolt once again produced world record-breaking time in the 200m final, finishing with a time of 19.19s. This victory was the largest margin in World Championships history, despite three other racers finishing under 19.90s. At the 2012 London Olympics, Bolt continued off from Beijing with three more gold medals in the 100m, 200m and 4x100 metres relay. He became the first man in history to defend both the 100m and 200m Olympic sprint titles. Jamaica then went on to win the 4x100m relay on the last day, knocking two tenths of a second off the previous world record. The most recent Olympic Games, set in Rio in 2016, Bolt finalised a stellar Olympic career by once again winning the 100m, 200m, and 4x100m relay events. By doing so, he obtained the ‘triple-triple’, three sprinting gold medals in three consecutive Olympics. Finishing with a 100%-win record in Olympic finals, Bolt has to be considered the greatest sprinter of all time, as well as perhaps the greatest Olympian ever.
However, every great has their fall. At the 2017 World Athletic Championships in London, Bolt won the bronze medal in his final individual race, clocking a time of 9.95s in the 100m. It was the first time he had been beaten at a major championship since 2007. He then went on and participated in the anchor for Jamaica’s 4x100m relay team. In what was intended to be his final race, Bolt pulled up in agony with 50 metres to go and collapsed. Refusing to use a wheel chair, Bolt crossed the finish line one last time with the assistance of his teammates Omar McLeod, Julian Forte, and Yohan Blake. ‘The Lightning Bolt’ quite literally ran until he could physically not run anymore. His body had simply given up. After over a decade of physical intensity that could not be matched, seeing Usain Bolt like this was agonising. Everyone knew that the moment was to come, but the shock factor of the moment actually occurring was almost unbearable. The great sprinter was finished.
With all this in the past, the former sprint champion is looking at football as a possible future. He is not the only sporting great who has changed to a different sport. Michael Jordan, regarded by many as the greatest basketball player of all time, attempted a baseball career during his first retirement stunt in 1994. He surprised the world by signing a minor league baseball contract with the Chicago White Sox. Jordan also spent time with the Birmingham Barons and the Scottsdale Scorpions, but shortly quit due to the ongoing Major League Baseball strike and so decided to return to the Chicago Bulls. Looking at how the great Michael Jordan faired at changing sports, it’ll be interesting to see how Bolt will do in his own switch. Will he have the success that most sportsmen don’t have when changing sports? Or will he pull up short, like he did in his last World Championships?
The Central Coast Mariners are excited about signing Bolt to the club, but don’t see him as anything more than just another addition, receiving no special treatment because of his past. His only request on his arrival to Gosford is that the hire car he drives is black. It looks like he will be granted this wish, but it will only be a Hyundai that the club receives as part of a sponsorship deal. Despite being considered one of the smallest-market clubs in the A-League, Central Coast Mariners has claimed one A-League Championship from four Grand Final appearances and topped the table to win the A-League Premiership twice. They were one of the most successful clubs in the first decade of the competition. However, changes within the team hurt the club hard. Since coach Graham Arnold departed in 2013, they’ve struggled to find a long-term coach. The club hopes to now move forward with Mike Mulvey, a fourth coach in five years. On the Central Coast, the fans are hyped ahead of what could be the club’s biggest season. In the 2017-18 season, the Mariners were placed dead last in the A-League, wining only 4 out of 15 matches. After such a horrendous season, the fans are ready for a change – but can Usain Bolt really be that change? His arrival could have a huge impact on a club rebuilding and potentially transform the club from regional underdog to national juggernaut. Considering his great success, imagine the positive mental impact he could have on the club and its players.
But what about on the pitch? Even though he has trained with several clubs around the world, the Olympic gold medalist has only played in charity football games, such as captaining the World XI during Soccer Aid 2018 at Old Trafford. As well as this, whilst training with Norweigen side Stromsgodest, he played for the club as a forward in a friendly match against Norway under-19 football team. This is the only action the ex-sprinter has had on the pitch since retiring back in 2017. Nonetheless, he was impressive in his stint with Borussia Dortmund. Footage from training with the club shows that he can finish, especially as he has the height advantage over most defenders. This is what caught the eye of the small Australian club, who was pursuing Bolt for four months. They hope that he can bring this style of play to the A-League and, if he makes the squad in October, take them from golden spoon winners to League winners.
It has been a life-long dream of his to play professional football, and his hope is to one day play for Manchester United. Perhaps Australia is the first step in this “personal goal”, as stated by Bolt himself. A lot are critising the great Olympian with this move, however it definitely isn’t about the money, as he is the 45thhighest paid athlete in the world, taking home $31 million a year, mainly in endorsement deals. It seems odd that an athlete like Bolt would move to Australia to train with a modest team in a competition with little global profile if a few extra million was his main motivation. It may seem like a gimmick or a joke, or even just media attention, but Bolt really does seem set on this career pursuit. Still, his skill set is not up to what is expected if he is to play in the A-League. The Mariners will be desperate to get him up to a standard where he can perform on the pitch. He has a lot to improve on in order to get to an acceptable ability of play. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see a future where Bolt is regularly entertaining crowds and terrorizing opposition defenses. It seems almost certain that the former Jamaican sprinter’s time in Australia won’t last as long as he hopes, and soon he’ll be searching for another club to train with. He may help Central Coast Mariners fans find their enthusiasm they once had. For Bolt, though, this may be his last chance at professional football. Otherwise, we may see him returning to athletics, but only in the commentary box with other Olympic greats.