RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The fastest man in the world is getting ready to race for the last time. Tomorrow in London, Jamaican Usain Bolt will run a final 100 meters at track and field's World Championships. A week later, after a relay finale, he says he'll retire. Bolt's highlight reel includes eight Olympic gold medals over the past three Summer Games. Here's NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: It was a year ago in Brazil right after Usain Bolt won his final Olympic gold medal. At his press conference, someone asked him about growing up in Jamaica - playing sports like cricket and soccer and running. Did he start with big dreams? Not really.
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USAIN BOLT: Over the years, I started making goals because I started getting better. And I just continued running and pushing myself, working hard until - here I am.
GOLDMAN: Here I am. Usain Bolt has announced his presence to the world so many times over the past nine years. But no hello was as big or gob-smacking as the first one. August 2008 in China - I remember that hazy Beijing night at the Bird's Nest Stadium, the quiet before the gun.
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GOLDMAN: Bolt began the race as the sport's new phenom. The lanky 6-foot-5-inch Jamaican had people buzzing about his potential. Those 100 meters in Beijing turned the buzz to awe. Former Olympic sprinter Ato Boldon covered the race for NBC.
ATO BOLDON: When he accelerated from about 30 until 70 - I have never seen anything like it before, and I've never seen anything like it since.
GOLDMAN: Ditto. I couldn't quite fathom watching the world's fastest men blaze down the track. And suddenly, it was like they were all standing still - except for one. I didn't take a picture. I wanted to see it. Beijing was our introduction to the Bolt surge. And we've all seen it again and again over the past nine years, in the 100 and 200 meters, his best distance, surging and winning without a cloud of doping hanging over him. There is a physical explanation. Ato Boldon.
BOLDON: He is a big wheel that's able to turn over like a small wheel. And once a big wheel gets going, it's going to cover so much ground that, quite frankly, small wheels have no chance. And that's why, you know, occasion, people will ask me, oh, you know, how would you have done against Usain Bolt? Well, I'm 5 feet 9 inches tall. I know how I would've done against Usain Bolt. I'd have gotten out ahead of him and right about 40 or 50 meters, he would have caught me, and it wouldn't of been pretty in the end.
GOLDMAN: But for those of us who just watched, it always was pretty in the end - the joyous celebrations, the victory poses pointing to the sky, the mugging to the camera pre-race, when the tension is supposed to be highest. Bolt comes to London this weekend after a subpar season. His fastest time in 100 this year ranks him seventh in the world. There's talk about him being an underdog.
He said this week, if he shows up at a championship, he's confident and fully ready to go. It's what a world of admirers expects tomorrow when, one last time in the 100, he hopes to proclaim, here I am. And after 9-point-something seconds, the world will say, with a touch of sadness, there he goes.
Tom Goldman, NPR News.
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