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Usain Bolt: Jamaica’s Hero and Sprinting’s GOAT

Zach Thompson breaks down Usain Bolt’s career.

OLYMPICS - ATHLETICS Photo by Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

As the DraftKings Marketplace continues working through some of the most dominant athletes in history with some sweet NFT releases, the featured athlete this week is Jamaican sprinting sensation Usain Bolt. Bolt is widely considered the greatest sprinter of all time, but how did he earn that title? Let’s take a look at the highlights from his storied career and how he earned that distinction.

Bolt was born on August 21, 1986, in the small town of Sherwood Content, Jamaica. He enjoyed cricket and soccer as a child and quickly became the fastest runner in his school. He was known as a practical joker early in his career and was even arrested in his first appearance on the world stage at the 2001 IAAF World Youth Championships in Debrecen, Hungary. Early on, he didn’t totally dedicate himself to training, and he relied heavily on his natural ability while preferring basketball, partying and fast food to training and preparing for events.

He started to rise to prominence in 2002 at the World Junior Championships on his home island of Jamaica. He took home the gold medal in the 200 meters to become the youngest world-junior gold medallist ever. He also landed two silver medals in the 4×100 meter and 4×400 meter relay. Bolt was 15 at the time and was already 6-foot-5, which is unusually tall for a world-class sprinter. He continued to pile up hype, medals and records leading up to the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Unfortunately, Bolt had a hamstring injury and other leg issues that limited his training and resulted in him being eliminated in the first round of the 200 meters in 2004. That disappointment caused Bolt to recommit himself to a new training regimen and greatly improved his work ethic over the next few years. He still struggled with some injury setbacks but finally found his stride with a trio of silver medals in the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, Japan. In May of 2008, Bolt set a new 100-meter world record in the buildup to the Olympics in Beijing.

He was under immense pressure coming into the Olympics as the favorite in both the 100 and 200-meter sprints after setting that World Record. Bolt rose to the occasion, though, with his iconic victory in the 100 to claim the title of “Fastest Man Alive.” Bolt set a new record of 9.69 seconds despite easing up before crossing the finish line to celebrate. His shoelace was also untied, but he still beat second-place finisher, Richard Thompson, by a comfortable margin. Bolt’s celebration was considered unsportsmanlike by some, including some of the International Olympic Committee leadership, but he responded by saying, “I wasn’t bragging...I was just happy.”

Bolt added two more golds in London, setting a new World Record in the 200 meters as well. His 100-meter victory became one of the most iconic moments of the Olympics and made him the face of sprinting. Bolt’s signature celebration was born at the event and is based on a popular dance move in Jamaica at the time “To Di World” (To The World). His move of bending one elbow and extending the other at an angle toward the skies become known as “Bolting” and has been emulated by everyone from President Obama to Prince Harry. Before Bolt’s success, there had been a number of top sprinters disqualified for foreign substances, and his emergence marked a new era for the sport and made sprinting success “cool” once again.

In 2009, he dominated the World Championships in Berlin with golds in the 100, 200 and 4 x 100 relay. Tyson Gay of the USA and Asafa Powell of Jamaica tried to challenge Bolt’s dominance, but ultimately, Bolt managed to claim all the golds. After a quiet 2010, Bolt was expected to win the 2011 World Championships, but he was disqualified from the 100 meters due to a false start. He still claimed the gold in the 200 meters and in the 4 x 100 relay, but he wasn’t able to sweep the events as he had two years prior.

Bolt brought his flare to the 2012 Olympics in London and became the first racer to successfully defend his gold medal in the 100 meters since Carl Lewis 24 years earlier. He also defended his title in the 200 meters, becoming the first man ever to defend those two titles in back-to-back games. After winning the 200, he put his finger to his lips to shush his critics and did five pushups, one for each of his Olympic golds. He added to that total with another gold in the 4 x 100 relay as well. After his big Olympic performance, most recognized Bolt as the best sprinter of all time, but he continued to build on his reputation as the GOAT.

Between the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, Bolt won a trio of gold medals in the 2013 World Championships in Moscow and three more gold medals in the 2015 World Championships in Beijing. In 2015, he held off many younger sprinters who were trying to claim his crowns and set himself up for more Olympic glory.

In the 2016 Olympics, Bolt was trying to do what no sprinter had ever done before. Normally the duration of a sprinters’ career is as short as the distance of their races, but Bolt truly defied father time with another legendary performance in Rio. Bolt took home an unprecedented third straight gold medal in the 100 meters and added another gold in the 200 meters as well. Bolt rounded out his “triple-triple” with another gold in the 4 x 100 meter relay, putting a finishing flourish on his Olympic dominance. He never lost in the finals and is the only racer to win either the 100 or the 200 in three separate Olympics.

Throughout his time in the spotlight, Bolt’s showy personality and flair made him a controversial figure, but it also made him attractive for many sponsors willing to push the envelope a little bit. He had a shoe deal with Puma that ran throughout his career and sported several iconic looks, including gold cleats emblazoned with “fastest” and “forever” in his final 100 meters. Gold was a popular color for Bolt’s shoes in the Olympics which sometimes mixed in some other Jamaican colors but always garnered plenty of attention.

Due to his notoriety, it isn’t surprising that Forbes reported that he is the highest-paid track athlete in history. In 2016 while making his run to Rio, he earned $32.5 million, which was roughly ten times the next highest runners’ income, according to Forbes.

He has used some of that fame and fortune to start a scooter company called Bolt Mobility, and he has also dived into the music scene, which isn’t surprising with how much he has always enjoyed and talked about dancing and music. On the family front, Bolt has three children with his girlfriend Kasi Bennett. His first child was a girl named Olympia Lightning Bolt, and he also has twin boys named Saint Leo (Bolt’s middle name) and Thunder.

Throughout his career, Bolt was a completely dominant force, taking every gold medal except one at the World Championships and Olympics from 2008 through 2016. In fact, no other man won an Olympic 100 meters between Justin Gatlin in 2004 and Italy’s Marcell Jacobs in 2021. Bolt’s dominance and memorable personality have made him the most famous track and field athlete of all time and unquestionably the greatest sprinter ever. When we talk about GOATs in different sports, Bolt should not be overlooked since he dominated in a way no one else can compare to for a 12-year stretch.