Usain Bolt may retire, but he’ll be back for Tokyo 2020
Usain Bolt ran what was billed as his final Olympic race on Friday night, anchoring the Jamaican 4×100 relay team to an easy gold medal, his ninth in his last nine races. For years, Bolt has said Rio would be his last Olympics, then he'd retire after the 2017 world championships in London.
I don't buy it; Bolt's not going anywhere. And while there absolutely might be an official retirement between now and Tokyo, when the athletes walk into National Olympic Stadium on the night of July 24, 2020, Usain Bolt will be there. He could he not?
1. He's still going to be good enough to win gold.
While you'd think the Bolt era might have pushed track into a new realm, sort of like Michael Phelps did with swimming, stars have regressed and new talent has been provided challenges only in the way of cheeky semifinal races after Bolt had shifted down into neutral. Much like Phelps (though with surely a different personal situation), don't be shocked if Bolt – fully believing he's going to stay retired – looks at the landscape of sprinting in 2019, realizes that he can still win gold with a 9.70 and 19.50 and comes back. That was fast enough to go three-for-three in Rio and it'll hold in Tokyo too.
2. Sprint training is a whole lot different than swimming, gymnastics, wrestling or various other Olympic disciplines.
The greatest comparison to a 100-meter dash at the Olympics is a title fight – not one of those awful Mayweather-Pacquiao joints but a real one, like Ali-Frazier, Leonard-Duran or even Tyson-Holyfield. Those boxers train daily but they ramp it up in the buildup to the fight to prepare for the bout. Bolt can do the same with sprint racing. He's never not going to work out. (Here's what he told GQ about the gym. “When I’m at the gym, I think about chicks, going to the beach, and looking good. I do it for the girls.”) So assuming he stays in shape, Bolt shouldn't need too much lag time between a comeback and Tokyo.
3. Ideally, Bolt would have “retired” Friday night in Rio, however.
Like all these spoiled college kids taking their gap years, Olympians could use one too. Look how much some time away from the pool helped Phelps in competition and life. More Olympic athletes should think about getting away for a year or two before dedicating themselves to the next Games. (Warning: The next sentence may be the first serious one writter about Ryan Lochte this week – but no jokes, I promise.) Lochte got right back in the pool after London and was clearly burned out by Rio. Unless world championships are your ultimate goal, take a little break. Don't get back in that pool next week. Rest, relax, recover. It's not like anybody's holding a gun to your head. (Sorry, I tried.)
4. Bolt is big in Japan.
All these narratives about how the Olympics as we know them being over (because of poor ratings, attendance and attention for Rio) will be flipped in four years. Tokyo is going to be a spectacular Olympic host and they'd love it if Bolt were there to build that hype around. He's a big pitchman in Japan and, though a retired athlete can make plenty of money by not playing (just ask Arnold Palmer), if Bolt needed a little financial incentive to come back, he could find it. Don't underestimate the Tokyo thing. Bolt not competing at a Japanese Olympics would be like David Hasselhoff retiring before Baywatch filmed a season in Germany. (Baywatch: Hamburg Nights.)
5. He can't leave track alone, the game needs him.
Bolt loves himself some Bolt. Good. He should. That's the quality the mega-stars – not the Tom Bradys and Peyton Mannings, who are loved by a certain subset of regional populations – all have. Ali. Jordan. Bolt. They ooze charisma. They are the embodiment of confidence. Usian Bolt thrives on the worldwide stage. He needs it and the challenges that come with it. And after three Olympics of knowing he could go nine-for-nine if he sauntered down the track in wingtips, Olympics No. 4 might not be as easy. Bolt will be 33. He's already pushed the limits of sprinting speed and longevity. He'll want to push it more. He'll need to push it more.
Nine gold medals is nice. Twelve gold medals is history.