LONDON – Usain Bolt took a last leisurely stroll around the track, placed his hands over his heart and then pointed toward the stands, where barely a soul had left.
The running had been over for nearly 30 minutes. As always, though, Bolt had a way of making everybody stay.
The world championships came to a melancholy close Sunday with an on-track tribute to the man who made the sport fun again. There were 11 gold medals at stake on a frenetic final day in London, and yet it was the sight of the hobbled champion walking slowly around the track — stopping to kneel at the starting lines for the 100- and 200-meter races he dominated for a decade — that made for the evening’s best theatre.
“I think I almost cried,” Bolt said. “I was just saying goodbye. That was it. Saying goodbye to my events. Saying goodbye to everything.”
The United States says goodbye to London in possession of 30 medals, the most it has ever taken from the worlds. Of those, 10 were gold, including the capper in the women’s 4×400 relay final, where Allyson Felix won her 16th medal to finish as the most-decorated athlete of all-time at the worlds.
Felix also won gold in the 4×100 relay, but the bronze she took in her only individual event, the 400, makes this a less-than-perfect trip for her.
In that way, she’s got something in common with Bolt. Between the bronze medal in the 100 and the hamstring pull and tumble to the track that ended his anchor leg of the 4×100 relay — and still made him wince when he had to negotiate big steps around the stadium — the championships went nothing like he planned.
“Someone tried to blame me, and said I started it,” Bolt said of a 10-day run filled with upsets and surprises. “It was just one of those things. It was one of those championships where everything does not go your way.”
The final day of events included two medals for Japan, with Hirooki Arai and Kai Kobayashi finishing second and third behind winner Yohann Diniz of France in the men’s 50-km race walk.
With Rio silver medalist Jared Tallent out of the race with a hamstring injury, Arai said failure was not an option.
“Without Australia’s Tallent in the race, I felt compelled to win a medal,” the 29-year-old Arai said. “Having gotten the job done, I’m relieved.
“I feel with this I was able to give something back to all those who have supported me.”
Japan, which earned bronze in the men’s 4×100 relay on Saturday, left the world championships with three medals overall.
Caster Semenya of South Africa was a winner on the last day, adding the 800-meter gold to her 1,500-meter bronze from earlier in the meet.
Elijah Manangoi, led a 1-2 Kenyan finish in the men’s 1,500 meters, while fellow Kenyan, Hellen Obiri pulled away from favorite Almaz Ayana with 250 meters to go to win the women’s 5,000-meter race.
In the high jump, Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar took gold by clearing 2.35 meters without a miss.
The Trinidad and Togabo team won the men’s 4×400 relay title as anchor Lalonde Gordon beat U.S sprinter Fred Kerley to the line.
There wasn’t a household name among the winners, and though all the performances were remarkable in their own way, this sport’s lack of star power with Bolt out of the mix is hard to gloss over.
“What we’re going to miss about Usain Bolt isn’t the three back-to-back Olympic Games or the clutch of world records and medals,” said Sebastian Coe, the leader of track’s governing body, the IAAF. “It’s because he has an opinion. He has a view. He fills a room. We have terrific talent that’s identifying itself at these championships. But that’s not the same as filling that void, and we have to work at that.”
Bolt’s standing-room-only news conference was scheduled for 15 minutes but went about 35. He discussed his past, the future and the sport he leaves behind.
He said over the long term, he could see himself coaching track and occasionally stepping into the TV booth for the sport’s biggest events.
His immediate plans?
“I need to go out and have a drink,” he said.
Asked one more time about doping, he said he thinks track is on an upward trajectory after two dispiriting years involving a doping scandal in Russia and problems across Africa and in his own country, Jamaica.
“I’ve proven to the world that you can do it, that you can be great without doping,” he said. “Hopefully young athletes can look at me.”
As far as a comeback is concerned, he insists it simply won’t happen.
“I’ve seen too many people retire and come back and make it worse and shame themselves,” he said. “I personally feel I won’t be one of those people.”
But he has no regrets about running in this meet, or concerns that the results will tarnish his legacy. In a way, he said, the jaw-dropping losses were similar to the breathtaking wins: They showed that when he’s on the track, anything really is possible.
“For me, it was brilliant,” he said of the week that was. “I’m just really sad I have to walk away now.”