Usain Bolt is set to make good on his word. For years, the world’s fastest man has said he’d run in the Rio Olympics, compete in the 2017 track season and then hang up his golden spikes after the 2017 world championship in London. So far, nothing has happened to derail his plans. Bolt treated his final run in Rio like it was the last time he’ll set foot on an Olympic track and he’s reiterated his retirement plans this winter, saying he wants to get out of the sport before he starts “embarrassing” himself.
I’m not buying it. Oh, I believe Bolt plans to retire, wants to retire, will retire and believes he’ll stay retired. But in the end, it’s tough to imagine he won’t come back for one final hurrah at the 2020 Olympics and this video is one of the many, many reasons why:
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What does Usain Bolt lighting it up with a Pokemon have to do with anything besides slightly embarrassing endorsement deals and a still weird Japanese game that’s had about three different stints as the fad of the moment over the past two decades – including the last incarnation, an iPhone game that temporarily made adults, human adults, follow around their phones like zombies possessed by a taste for cartography and accruing pixelated children’s characters. It’s just one in a series of countless commercials, ads, events, appearances and competitions that show how big Usain Bolt is in Japan. He’s like The Beatles crossed with Michael Jordan crossed with Super Mario.
So when Tokyo time rolls around in 2020, the allure of taking the track in front of 68,000 of the most adoring fans this side of Kingston, not to mention the financial boon that’ll come with all the additional endorsements he’ll receive, will prove too much. (Bolt will still be huge at Tokyo 2020 if he doesn’t run but he’ll be bigger if he does.) Bolt is simply too big in Japan to skip the biggest event the country has ever held. As Tokyo gets closer, fully expect the greatest sprinter ever to pull a Michael Phelps.
The swimmer had a multitude of reasons for coming back and avenging his lackluster pre-retirement performance at the London Olympics surely had to be up there. (Bolt doesn’t have that problem – he went three-for-three in Rio. He could walk away on top.) But mostly, he just came back because he knew his body, knew the landscape and knew he could still win. Unless a sprinter bursts onto the scene in 2019 like Bolt did in 2008, why wouldn’t he come back?
It’s certainly not to maintain his unblemished Olympic record. While Bolt (or his teammates) have crossed the finish line first in every Olympic race (nine for nine), he now only has eight official gold medals after a relay gold was stripped because of a teammate’s PED usage. Anyone who thinks that makes Bolt eight-for-nine is a fool, but if he was ever worried about ruining perfection (or the perception of it), that’s out the window. That lost medal also bumped Bolt down the list of all-time Olympic gold-medal winners, from tied-for-second to tied-for-sixth. Running in Tokyo brings the chance of leaving with 11 Olympic gold medals, which would put him and Phelps on top of the standings. If Bolt performs well at the ’17 world championships, and there’s no reason to expect that he won’t, will he really pass it up?
This is premature, obviously. Bolt hasn’t even retired yet (that will come in August if all goes according to plan). But given his fame in Japan, his insatiable desire for competition and the possibility of more Olympic records, expect that retirement, if it happens, to be a short one. Something tells me Pikachu doesn’t have the speed to get Usain Bolt’s competitive juices flowing.