LONDON – An encore for Usain Bolt? Unthinkable.
A loss in his going-away party? Impossible.
Track’s fastest man and greatest entertainer made both those points clear Tuesday leading to his final world championships this week. It was an engaging hour filled with reminisces, chats about his plans and thoughts about where his troubled and soon-to-be-starless sport might be headed.
Sporting the goatee he wears during world championships, but not the Olympics, the superstar who went 9-for-9 at the Summer Games, shattering records while dancing and smiling his way through the journey, dispensed any notion he might come back: “For me, the next championships should be fun because now it’s time to watch and see who can hold their nerves,” said the 11-time world champion, who turns 31 on Aug. 21.
As for the possibility he’d change his mind should he lose in Saturday night’s 100-meter final: “It’s not going to happen, so we won’t have that problem. Don’t worry,” he said.
He said he’s looking forward to a life of motivational speaking, occasional soccer games with friends and maybe dipping his toe into action movies to keep the adrenaline flowing.
As for the past, one of Bolt’s most interesting revelations was that his now-famous “To the World” pose, which he debuted after winning his first Olympic gold medal in Beijing, was completely unplanned.
“It’s just something that happened,” Bolt said. “I guess it was by the grace of God. It became big. For me, it worked.”
Almost every celebration since — the moderator said Bolt has taken 147 victory laps over his career — has been pre-planned, drenched in Jamaican flags and reggae music and every bit worth the wait. Among the few impromptu moments came at the last world championships, two years ago in Beijing, when a photographer riding a Segway accidentally upended him during his victory lap.
That man made a videotaped appearance at the news conference and told Bolt: “You inspired me to become more focused in my work.”
“It was shocking,” said Bolt, who popped right back up after the spill. “I didn’t get hurt, so it was funny.”
On a more serious note, he was asked how he has prepared for each season as his career has progressed. Like flipping through the calendar, Bolt ticked off his goals and motivations for each year since he burst onto the scene in 2008, a relative unknown whose only goal was to become an Olympic champion in his main race, the 200 meters.
Early on, he took umbrage to the slights: for instance, that despite setting four world records, his success in 2008 came because his main challenger, Tyson Gay, was hurt. Or how in 2012, many were favoring teammate Yohan Blake at the Olympics after Bolt lost to him twice earlier in the summer in Jamaica.
As the calendar kept turning and Bolt kept proving himself, his mission became more about trying to secure his place in history. When he swept gold for the third straight Olympics last year in Rio de Janeiro, he reached the legendary status he sought.
“Now that I got to my goal, I’m good with it,” he said. “I’ve proven myself.”
He fielded the obligatory questions about doping. Bolt has never been caught. Many in his country, and in the sprint game he dominates, have. The last two years have been filled with sordid stories of doping corruption in Russia that brought track and field to a new low.
“The only place track and field has to go is up,” Bolt said. “Hopefully we’re going to get it going in the right direction and continue going in the right direction.”
His most telling comments — or non-comments — came when he was asked who might fill his shoes after he leaves.
“I’m not going down that road,” Bolt said. “The last guy I said was going to be great disrespected me.”
It was almost certainly a reference to Andre De Grasse, the Canadian up-and-comer who brazenly pushed Bolt last year in the Olympic 200 meter semifinals.
If there’s going to be drama in Saturday’s 100 final, De Grasse is the best bet to provide it.
But Bolt doesn’t see that as a problem.
“You guys know if I show up at a championship, you know I’m fully confident and ready to go,” he said.
He unveiled the gold-and-purple shoes he’ll wear for his final championships. The purple is for his school colors back home at William Knibb Memorial High School. The gold is self-explanatory.
His sponsor, Puma, has been promoting the phrase “Fastest Forever,” in the lead-up to the worlds, which will take place in the same London stadium where Bolt won Olympic medals 4, 5 and 6.
But Bolt has a different idea.
“Unbeatable,” he said. “For me, that would be the biggest headline. Unbeatable. Unstoppable. Hear that guys? Jot it down.”