Usain Bolt on the Mount Rushmore of Sporting Greats

By Donald Oliver August 20, 2020
Usain Bolt Usain Bolt

It’s difficult for our voices to be heard and our stories to be told around the world when one resides on an island in the West Indies.

It comes with the territory of being the smallest in the room. Other nations puff out their chest and roar, and because of that noise, our expressions are akin to squeaks. What is lost in all that noise? Truth.

American sport is huge! They’ve made it so. We have bought into the hype that a U.S. city can win a national basketball title, labelled ‘World Champions’. Incredible.

And we’ve also fallen into the trap of using American analogies to bring home a point. For e.g., the headline for this opinion piece.

However, it has become the language we speak when we try to make reference to something monumental. Pardon my use, this one time.

Who are some of the greatest athletes of all time?

Some names come into the discussion right away. Pele, Michael Phelps, Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Tiger Woods, Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Garfield Sobers and Tom Brady would be some of the names listed. And immediately your brain fires off names which should have been listed.

In 2012, Usain Bolt said he wanted to be remembered as one of the greatest of all time, to be mentioned with the likes of Ali and Jordan. He felt that defending his Olympic sprint double in London would go a far way in making that case. And of course, Bolt went on to do just that and more.

In 2016, he went further into unchartered waters by becoming a sprint double champion at the Olympics for the third consecutive time. Bolt was the most dominant force in the sport of track and field from 2008 to 2016. And many would argue that, that was athletics greatest era, not only because of the Jamaican but because of his competitors.

Another great Jamaican athlete Yohan Blake, despite the ridicule he received by many on his island home, was correct. He, as well as the rest of the world’s best athletes, were overshadowed during that time. Blake is the second fastest over 200 metres at 19.26 seconds. He is also the joint second-fastest over 100 metres at 9.69 seconds. His lone individual world title came in the aftermath of a shocking Bolt false start in 2011.

The phenomenal American sprinter Tyson Gay was born in the wrong era too. He holds the American 100-metre record of 9.69 seconds. The previous American record of 9.71 seconds was set at the World Championships in Berlin in 2009, and by all indication should have been good enough to win gold … except, Bolt ran 9.58 in the same race.

Overshadowed.

When Bolt was young, we all thought he would’ve been remarkable at the 200 metres and the excitement would have been amplified when he became the youngest ever male winner at the World Junior Championships at 15 years and 332 days, back in 2002 in Kingston.

The fact that his foray into the 100 metres began as a light-hearted moment with his coach Glen Mills seems so preposterous now. It’s all part of the folklore. It’s all forged in history.

We speak of Usain Bolt as if he is an old man, but he turns 34 on Friday, August 21. I remember interviewing him on the telephone upon his return from Osaka in 2007 where he finished second in the 200 metres behind Tyson Gay. I was one year his senior, and I was able to relate to his unbridled joy and sense of relief that he finally made an impact on the world stage. That silver medal is almost like a footnote now.

What are the traits an all-time great athlete should have?

They should have been the best in their sport over a sustained period of time (which is the lowest denominator). They should have statistics, records and titles or championships to back their claim. And they should also be transcendent. How did they impact the sport or change the game?

Who else has dominated their sport to the degree which Bolt has done in what was supposed to have been a competitive era? The American swimmer Michael Phelps, the most successful Olympian of all time with 28 medals, including a record 23 gold, is the first athlete who comes to mind. He was the most successful Olympian for four straight Games. He had set 29 individual records in the pool, and he presently holds on to one.

Muhammad Ali also comes to mind. He had a larger-than-life persona in and out of the ring. He was arrogant enough to think he could beat the likes of Sonny Liston and George Foreman… and he did. But he also lifted up his race, which was his biggest fight. He utilised his voice against injustice in ways we hadn’t seen before or since.

It is difficult to gauge the impact of team players. However, Pele stands out for winning three World Cups over the span of 12 years. And Michael Jordan revolutionized basketball and made it global so much so, everyone wanted to be “like Mike”. Thanks, Gatorade.

And of course Tiger Woods. As far as the eye test is concerned, is the best many have ever seen. However, in a sport which is singular in nature, the fact he is still 3 majors behind Jack Nicklaus (18) puts an asterisk beside his name, for now.

Notable Mention

Notable mention must be made of “The Great One” Wayne Gretzky who has been regarded as the greatest ice hockey player of all time. He has 61 NHL records, but he doesn’t have an Olympic medal.

We see you fam… we see you.

It is reasonable to assume, running, is the oldest sport known to man. There is some evidence based on drawings in caves in 3000 BC that wrestling was also right up there as one of the ancient pastimes. However, when stripped to the bare bones, for hundreds and hundreds of years, the best athlete was considered to be the one who could run.

Archery, Swimming, Boxing and even Hockey are all considered ancient sports.

Bolt deserves his place with the elite. And any serious sporting discussion, even the ones in the United States of America, should show the Jamaican the respect he deserves.

Bolt, Phelps, Ali and Pele are on my Mount Rushmore.

Donald Oliver is a football and cricket commentator and a senior producer at SportsMax. Learn more about him at www.thedonaldoliver.com or email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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