LONDON (AP) — One final time, Usain Bolt peered down the last 50 meters of his lane and saw sprinter upon sprinter running footsteps ahead of him.
One final time, the World’s Fastest Man furiously pumped the arms and legs on his gangly 6-foot-5 frame, desperately trying to reel in all those would-be winners as the finish line fast approached.
This time, the afterburners kicked in but not hard enough. Not one, but two overlooked and underappreciated Americans — Justin Gatlin and Christian Coleman — withstood what was once Bolt’s undeniable late charge.
This time, Bolt finished third in the 100-meter dash at world championships. That’s right: A bronze-medal finish Saturday night in the going-away party for one of the planet’s most entertaining icons and track and field’s lone shining star.
“No regrets,” Bolt insisted, long after a result that stunned a pumped-up crowd into near silence. “It was always going to end, no matter what happened — win, lose or draw. It doesn’t change anything in my career.”
Gatlin, who actually trailed Bolt at th
“I wanted to pay homage to him,” Gatlin said. “This night is still a magical night for track and field and Usain Bolt. I’m just happy to be one of his biggest competitors.”
Coleman, a 21-year-old in the first major race of his life, was in shock, too: “To beat someone I looked up to when I was growing up. I was just happy to be on the line with him,” he conceded.
Bolt, who finished third in a time of 9.95, accepted with class both the result, and the fact that, at 30, he probably is picking the perfect time to retire.
“I did it for the fans,” he said after collecting a bronze to go with his three world golds at 100 meters. “They wanted me to go for one more season. I came out and did the best I could.”
In the past, the scene after a Bolt race was really just an after-party masquerading as ceremony, filled with Bob Marley tunes, Jamaican flags and dancing. On Saturday, it felt surreal to anyone who’s been at one of these Bolt victories before.
With house music playing softly throughout the stadium where Bolt won the middle three of his nine Olympic finals, Gatlin and Coleman passed through the exit tunnel while the former champion took a 10-minute trip around the track, then detoured into the stands for selfies with the Jamaican fans who came across the ocean to see him one last time.
A few minutes after that, he stepped onto the track, kneeled down and kissed the finish line that he crossed in Lane 4.
Then, he gave the fans what they’ve come to expect: The famous “To The World” pose, which used to be the cherry on top of a raucous, fun-filled night. But where in the past the stadium would have still been brimming, this time, it was about one-eighth full and emptying quickly.
“It doesn’t change anything,” Bolt said. “I lost the race to a great competitor. I came out here and did my best. I’ve done all I can do for my sport and for myself.”