Deji Ogeyingbo shook up some of our readers a few weeks ago with his column on Sha’Carri Richardson. This column is about the opportunity that Deji believes has been wasted, so far, in not working with Usain Bolt to help build the global brand of World Athletics.
World Athletics has not done enough to milk the brand of Usain Bolt
On August 16, 2008, inside the Bird’s Nest stadium in Beijing, Usain Bolt won his first Olympic Gold medal. The Jamaican, then 21, was already the world record holder but lowered the mark to 9.69 seconds, easing clear of his rivals and celebrating before he crossed the line. Even as the Bolt eased up to celebrate midrace and stroke that pose—one that would become synonymous with his eventual countless wins, his dominance in the race was in no way affected as he etched his name in history.
A star was born on that day. Well, figuratively. Athletics had waited patiently for the once-in-a-lifetime athlete to pop up. Bolt answered the call. From the time he turned pro in 2003, and even past his last major victory at the Rio Olympics in 2016, Bolt drew more eyes to him and his sport than any other sprinter ever. In his prime, Bolt turned races into must-watch events, even for those who had never watched an athletics event before.
He was mesmeric, a perfect blend of talent and charisma suited for a growing sport that had been tainted with many drugs-related issues for athletes. TV ratings, galleries, and prize money all increased significantly. People had to watch. Bolt transcended the sport, one which a lot of people had given up on. He brought life into it.
His appeal was just astonishing. In 2013, Forbes made his debut at Number 48 on Forbes’s annual Celebrity 100 list, based on fame and money. He became the first track star to achieve such.
When Bolt rose to dominance, the world suddenly saw athletics as admirable. Hardcore fans have long understood the appeal of the sport, but that doesn’t mean that teenage boys have always gotten that. But at the height of Bolt’s career, everyone – even Gen Z’s – wanted to be Bolt.
Some of the top sprinters of the last few years, such as Yohan Blake, Letsile Tebogo and Wayde Van Niekerk cite Bolt as one of their major inspirations as they were growing up. Bolt helped take athletics to a new level, and they wanted to join him at those heights.
For most athletics fans, the theatrics and decibels of Bolt’s performance were too much. But TV…
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