Olympics 2012: Is Usain Bolt Now the World's Biggest Sports Star?

Greg LottContributor IAugust 17, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 11:  Usain Bolt of Jamaica celebrates winning gold and setting a new world record of 36.84 during the Men's 4 x 100m Relay Final on Day 15 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on August 11, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

“Do you want to run it for me?” Usain bolt asked the pretty girl minding his kit. A little abashed, the girl tried to suppress a shy smile. It was two minutes before the final of the Olympic Games 200-meter dash Bolt won.

Ever since he burst upon the scene, Bolt has been unique. Transforming the once archaic sport of track and field athletics into an event, into entertainment. Usain Bolt is the inaugural cross-over from athlete to celebrity, and the people love him.

The appeal of Usain Bolt is the very juxtaposition between his fierce competitiveness allied to his laid-back demeanour.

This is a man who turned the quiet reflection of the starter's orders into a sideshow, an exhibition. His now famed lighting Bolt arm salute has been adopted in different guises by his competitors, each trying to assert their identity in an arena not all are comfortable in. Asafa Powell, for instance, Bolt's Jamaican teammate, joins in with the pre-race bravado, but it appears awkward, forced even.

Usain Bolt has transcended the figurative boundaries of sport to be wholeheartedly accepted into mainstream society.

Certain footballers, such as Cristiano Ronaldo, have a similar ability to cross over into the mainstream (interestingly, I would exclude Lionel Messi at this juncture, void as he is of an public persona). Yet, in my opinion, Usain Bolt usurps all modern contemporaries, with only Mohamed Ali as a potential adversary.

Bolt’s sport is beautiful in its simplicity. The stigma attached all-encompassing. Speed, the primal ability possessed by all, but with only one master, Usain Bolt. Yet even that is not enough.

There have been fast men before and undoubtedly there will be fast men after. Powell has previously been the world record holder of the 100-meter dash, and like Bolt, a beneficiary of the title "fastest man on the planet." Yet his star failed to shine much outside the restrictive avenues of athletic interest.

For Powell isn’t Bolt. Powell is an athlete, a very good athlete, but simply just that. Usain Bolt is so much more. He is a showman, an entertainer, a joker. Apart from their yellow and green façade, Usain Bolt couldn’t be much less like Asafa Powell.

Having competed in athletics since my childhood, I was well aware of its perma-residency at the tail-end of column inches. Track and field was a sport which everyone knew about, maybe could recall a few names, but for the most part, for wider society, its competitors were supreme athletic drones, capable of supreme human achievement, but that was about it. Celebrity athletes didn’t really exist.

Usain Bolt has gone viral. An irresistible force whose light-hearted flouting of the accepted rules of peak performance (up at 3:00 a.m. the night before the 200 heats with the Swedish handball team, etc.), simply serves to humanize this most super-human of beings.

So I make this claim. Admittedly, people like Cristiano Ronaldo, Floyd Mayweather and LeBron James have world-wide appeal. Yet there was an acquisition of stature built upon the existing foundation of their sport. Usain Bolt has established a new order. He Assumed celebrity where none previously existed and changed the public perception of his sport.

Usain Bolt is the biggest sports star in the world. Now get that man some chicken nuggets.