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Usain Bolt is Down to His Last, Blazing Curtain Call

first_imgLONDON (AP) – Muhammad Ali stood alone on many fronts, but Joe Frazier, George Foreman and a few others still stood toe-to-toe with him in the ring. Jack Nicklaus contended with Arnold Palmer on the front end of his career and Tom Watson on the back end.Usain Bolt? Nobody has been a match for him, on or off the track.The man who reshaped the record book and saved his sport is saying goodbye. His sprints through the 100 meters and Jamaica’s 4×100 relay at the world championships, which begin Friday, are expected to produce golds yet again, and leave track with this difficult question: Who can possibly take his place?“You would have to have someone who’s dominating, and no one’s doing that,” said Michael Johnson, the former world-record holder at 200 and 400 meters and perhaps the sport’s brightest star in the 1990s. “You’d have to have someone who has that something special like he has, in terms of personality and presence. You’re not going to have that.”Though he will not retire undefeated, Bolt stands in the rarest of company: an athlete who was never beaten when the stakes were greatest. And with a showman’s flair as transcendent as his raw speed — Chicken McNuggets for dinner, his fabled “To The World” pose for dessert and dancing away at nightclubs till dawn — he hoisted his entire, troubled sport upon his shoulders and made it watchable and relevant.Since his era of dominance began in 2008, Bolt went undefeated at the Olympics — 9 for 9 — in the 100, 200 and 4×100 relay. (One of those medals was stripped because of doping by a teammate on the 2008 relay team.) He has set, and re-set, the world records in all three events. His marks of 19.30, then 19.19, at 200 meters, were once thought virtually impossible. He set a goal of breaking 19 seconds in Rio de Janeiro last summer, and when he came up short, it became clear the barrier will be safe for years.At the world championships, Bolt’s only “loss” came in 2011, when he was disqualified for a false start in the 100 meters. Jamaican teammate Yohan Blake won the title that year, as well as the Jamaican national championships at 100 and 200 meters leading to the London Olympics. Heading back to London five years later, Blake is an afterthought.And Bolt’s mastery of this sport remains unchallenged.“I’ll be sad to see someone like him go,” said America’s Justin Gatlin, Bolt’s longest and sturdiest challenger, who has been disingenuously portrayed as the brooding bad boy set against Bolt’s carefree party guy. “He’s such a big figure in our sport. Not only is he a big figure, but the kind of guy who always will be a competitor when he steps onto the line.”Though it’s tricky to compare dominance in track to that in any other sport, there’s an element of Nicklaus in Bolt’s dominance. Impressive as his 18 major championships are, Nicklaus’ 19 second-place finishes and 73 top-10s spoke to his ability to get into the mix in most of the majors over the quarter-century while he was collecting titles. Nicklaus had to fend off Palmer, Watson, Johnny Miller and a dozen other legitimate contenders at every event. Bolt hasn’t faced anything like that.Yet they shared this important similarity: Often, the contests were over before they even began. Or, as Tom Weiskopf once said: “Jack knew he was going to beat you. You knew Jack was going to beat you. And Jack knew that you knew that he was going to beat you.”At the worlds two years ago, Gatlin had Bolt beaten in the 100 but leaned in at the finish line a microsecond too early. Bolt passed him and won by 0.01 seconds. The American all but admitted he psyched himself out.Speaking to the pressure of racing someone such as Bolt, the Scottish sports historian and former Olympic coach Tom McNab compared sprinting to running in a tunnel.“And once you become aware of what’s happening outside your tunnel, you’re in trouble,” he said.In boxing, Ali wasn’t necessarily unbeatable, but he was incomparable as both a sharp-witted showman and an athlete with a social conscience, using his platform to preach tolerance and oppose war.Bolt hasn’t sought that sort of impact, at least not yet, but it’s hard to overstate the mark he made on his troubled sport and, thus, the Olympics, which have long featured athletics as the must-see event of the final two weeks.Over years and decades, the showcase sport of the Olympics has devolved into a sordid litany of doping scandals. The latest concerns widespread corruption and cheating in Russia, and heading into Rio, it undermined not only the sport and its managers, but the Olympics and their leaders’ willingness to deal with it.But when Bolt sauntered onto the track, flashed a peace sign and blew a kiss to the crowd, all was forgotten. Not just for the 9, or 19, seconds while he was running, but for the entire evening and beyond. He made track, and thus, the Olympics, eminently watchable.He’ll do it one more time on a smaller stage — track’s world championships — but a stage with plenty of symbolic meaning.When he headed to London for the Olympics in 2012, Bolt held all the records, but was portrayed as vulnerable, following the false start, a long list of nagging injuries and his losses to Blake.By the time he left, he had pretty much anointed himself as the greatest. Four years later, he said that was precisely his goal: “To be among Ali and Pele,” he said.He’s on that list, but when the lights go out after the relays Aug. 11 — 10 days before his 31st birthday — it will be time to say goodbye.“Once he’s gone,” McNab says, “there’s no major personality that would make any significant impact at the world level.”___By EDDIE PELLSAP Sports Writer Pat Graham contributed to this report.TweetPinShare0 Shareslast_img read more

To hell with history: World Cup Fiver

first_imgA NIGHT AGAINST TUNISIAThe Fiver didn’t bother watching Monday night’s football, because, well, why would you? England always start big tournaments with a disappointing draw these days, was our rationale. But look! More fool The Fiver! So well done injury-time’s Harry Kane, and well done everyone else, too, with the possible exception of naughty Kyle Walker. That last-gasp winner’s got to augur well for the rest of the month in Russia, hasn’t it? Consider: when England registered their second-best showing in the biggest show on earth, reaching the semis in 1990, they played the Republic O’Ireland in their first game, and started out with a disappointing dr … OK, but when they won the World Cup in 1966 [subs, please check] they entertained Uruguay at Wembley in the opening match, which ended in a disappointing dra … ach! Oh Harry! How could you! Reuse this content features Talking points, all five of them, from Dominic Fifield in Volgograd.Max Rushden peers into a hellish futurescape.Suzanne Wrack on the impressive punditry of Alex Scott and Eni Aluko.She’s also written her weekly column on the big rebuilding job needed at Liverpool Ladies.Tensions are still high for Russia despite being on the brink of the knockout stage.Egypt are ready to gamble on Mo Salah, reports Amy Lawrence.Thomas Hitzlsperger on the challenge facing Jogi Lurrrrrrvvve.Oh, and if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!日本語版もあります。 World Cup Fiver A good meal spoiled. Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi/The Guardian Pinterest Share on Pinterest RECOMMENDED LISTENINGHere’s the latest World Cup Football Daily podcast, with Max Rushden and co, and you can find it in this general area every matchday evening.SUPPORT THE GUARDIANProducing the Guardian’s thoughtful, in-depth journalism – the stuff not normally found in this email, obviously – is expensive, but supporting us isn’t. If you value our journalism, please support us by making a one-off or recurring contribution.FIVEЯ LETTERS“You mentioned the amazing form of Eden Hazard (yesterday’s Bits and Bobs). It’s interesting that in 2014-15 he was ever present and player of the season before starting a dozen fewer games in the following season with his form dropping off a cliff before the Euros. It’s also interesting that in 2016-17 he was almost ever-present and almost player of the the season before starting eight fewer games in the following season with his form dropping before the World Cup. It’s almost as if he cares more about being fit and ready for the big international tournaments than he does about playing for his club” – Antony Melvin.“I know it’s been less than a week since it kicked off, but I’m not particularly enjoying VAR. We already spend too much time gazing at glowing screens that tell us what to do and think. Now referees are doing it in the middle of a football match” – Peter Oh.Send your letters to [email protected] And if you’ve nothing better to do you can also tweet The Fiver. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’the day is … Rollover.THE RECAPGet the best of Big Website’s coverage sent direct to your inbox every Friday lunchtime (BST). Has the added bonus of being on time. Sign up here.BITS AND BOBSCroatia striker Nikola Kalinic has been hoofed on the first flight out of Russia after refusing to go on as a substitute against Nigeria. “Kalinic was warming up and supposed to come on in the second half … however, he then stated he wasn’t ready to come on due to a back issue,” blathered manager Zlatko Dalic.Saudi Arabia’s plane has landed safely despite a buttock-clenchingly scary incident when it caught fire during their flight to Rostov for the game against Uruguay.Uncle Sepp will attend Portugal v Morocco and Brazil v Costa Rica despite being banned from all football-related activity by Fifa, the big rebel. Non-World Cup news dept I: Petr Cech might want to locate the Arsenal door marked Do One after the club agreed a deal to sign Bernd Leno for £19m from Bayer Leverkusen.And non-World Cup news dept II: Chesterfield boss Martin Allen is offering his apologies for rescheduling their pre-season friendly at Nuneaton. “To be perfectly honest with you all, I only got it changed to watch my wife swim in the River Thames to raise money for Cancer Research UK,” he cheered. “Of course I’ll be very proud when she takes on that tough challenge and no doubt she will not be defeated. If I have messed your day up, come and see me in my office for a chat.”STILL WANT MORE?Harry Kane rescued us all from the unbearable introspection of another slow first‑week England World Cup sigh-a-thon, writes Barney Ronay.How the England win went down in a Tunisian cafe at Shepherd’s Bush. Football Twitter Twitter Read more Share on Twittercenter_img Share via Email Share on Facebook Facebook Topics So that’s that scuppered, then. But to hell with history! Because The Fiver retains a small sliver of hope that England may buck that trend, and end up doing rather well, after a night which saw them get away with it against Tunisia. Gareth Southgate celebrated the result by conducting a terrace chant while sporting a statement waistcoat, something not seen on prime-time BBC1 since Slade were regulars on Top of the Pops, but he soon calmed down, finished feeling the noise, and quietly reflected on his squad’s strength in depth. “The guys who came on had a different threat. The freshness of Marcus Rashford and Ruben Loftus-Cheek brought energy and a different threat to the one we’d posed. They had a good impact on the game.” A reflection you can also read as a mea culpa if you like. Because when you consider vast chunks of their performance, he’s got to pick a different starting XI next time, right?Of course, the one unequivocally good thing about the way things panned out is that Kane is now second-favourite for the Golden Boot behind Him. With two goals in the bag, and a game coming up against a Panama side so out of their depth they managed to make a Bobby M team appear coherent in attack, it’s looking good already. Could he become the first English top scorer at a World Cup since Gary Lineker in 1986? There’s a fair chance if England go deep. And Lionel Messi isn’t going to win it, is he, so the field is already thinning out. Tottenham fans might hope their man just misses out, mind you. Barcelona made off with Lineker after he top-scored in 1986, Everton powerless to resist, and they were a club used to winning stuff. Oh Spurs! Lucky their man’s just signed a new contract, eh. That should stop the big Spanish clubs sniffing around if Kane does a bit too well in Russia. Shouldn’t it?LIVE ON BIG WEBSITEJoin Scott Murray at 1pm BST for hot MBM coverage of Colombia 2-1 Japan, Barry Glendenning for Poland 1-2 Senegal at 4pm and Paul Doyle for Russia 1-0 Egypt at 7pm.QUOTE OF THE DAY“When [Vahid] Halilhodzic was coach, we had no chance of winning. We are just lucky to be here now so enjoy the game” – Saburo Kawabuchi, president of Japan Top League and one of the country’s most influential football figures, does his best to dampen expectations before their opener with Colombia.RECOMMENDED LOOKINGThe rather decent David Squires on the Ethics World Cup so far. Facebook Share on Messenger Share on WhatsApp Share on LinkedIn Pinterest Oof! Illustration: David Squires/The Guardian Harry Kane keeps his head and England find a ray of sunshinelast_img read more