Why is Usain Bolt retiring? Jamaican's times suggest London World Athletics Championships is perfect swansong moment

Joe Hall
Follow Joe
Usain Bolt athletics
Waving goodbye: Is Bolt bowing out at the perfect moment? (Source: Getty)

The fastest man in the world pulls the brakes on a storied sprinting career at the London Stadium this weekend — yet there are signs Usain Bolt may already be slowing down.

After a decade of gold medals and world records, Bolt has just three individual 100m races left to run and is aiming to bow out of the sport by winning the men's final on Saturday night to become a World Champion for the 12th time.

Regardless of the result, there will likely be those pining for an encore or even a full reversal on his decision to retire.

After all, other legends of the track such as Carl Lewis or Michael Johnson both raced, and won medals, well into their 30s. Bolt meanwhile, will still be just 30-years-old when he crosses the finish line for the final time.

Read more: Usain Bolt vows to win London World Championships gold for tragic friend Germaine Mason

Few other sprinters have ever got near the Jamaican let alone toppled him from the top of the podium, yet recent results suggest the certainty of Bolt gold is not what it once was.

In major meets — counted as Olympic Games, World Athletics Championships and Diamond League events — Bolt's average times have been steadily rising in recent years.

Last year, when Bolt secured an unprecedented third Olympic gold medal in Rio de Janeiro, his average time across heats and finals was 9.91 seconds.

Four years earlier in 2012, another Olympic year, Bolt produced his best average time of 9.84 seconds.

Similarly, the eight-time Olympic champion's season's best times have been slower in recent years. So far this season his fastest time stands at 9.95 seconds, just over a 10th of a second slower than the 9.81 seconds posted in the Olympic final last year, itself a downgrade on the 9.79 seconds recorded at the 2015 World Championships.

Read more: Full World Athletics Championships day-by-day guide

In 2014 Bolt's season best was 9.98 seconds — his worst since 2007's 10.03 — yet the time still stands an indoor world record from what was his only race in an injury-blighted year.

Of course, part of Bolt's brilliance has been his ability to consistently peak at the perfect moment in order to grab gold.

Olympics Day 8 - Athletics
Bolt is no longer as dominant as he was in Beijing nine years ago (Source: Getty)

Even at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, when the 30-year-old set world records that still stand in both the 200m and the 100m, his times were only eighth and sixth speediest in the field for the respective heats.

Yet most disconcertingly for those with a ticket to the Olympic Stadium hoping to see one final triumph, Bolt's best times ahead of an Olympics or World Championships have been getting slower.

Furthermore, the gap between his best pre-Championships time and best time when it matters have been decreasing, suggesting it is becoming harder for Bolt to produce the moments of breathtaking brilliance that have defined his greatest triumphs.

In 2016, Bolt's best time ahead of the Olympics was 9.88, 0.07 seconds behind his Olympic-winning time of 9.81.

A year earlier, he clocked 9.87 before going 0.08 seconds faster at the Beijing World Championships.

In his best year in 2012, he had posted an impressive 9.76 seconds ahead of the London Games but was still able to shave 0.13 seconds off his time at the Olympic Stadium.

Bolt has been able to outrun every opponent who has lined up against him during his career - retiring now could be the perfect way to beat father time to the finish line too.

Related articles