Usain Bolt‘s sights are set on a “triple-triple” at the Rio 2016 Olympics. The Jamaican, already the first athlete to sweep the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay at consecutive Olympics, will try to do so for a third straight time next year.
But, no matter what Bolt does in Brazil, he will leave with a blemish on his Olympic résumé. It’s been there since 2004, when Bolt debuted at the Olympics in Athens.
Bolt, then 17 years old, made the Jamaican Olympic team for one race in the Greek capital — the 200m. He came to the Games with the second fastest time in the world in the event in 2004.
Sports Illustrated predicted Bolt would win a bronze medal behind world leader Shawn Crawford (who famously raced a giraffe and a zebra on primetime TV) and Greek 2000 Olympic champion Konstantinos Kenteris (who infamously missed a drug test the day before he was favored to the light the Olympic cauldron at the Opening Ceremony and withdrew from the Games days before the 200m race).
“It would be nice to be Olympic 200 meters champion at my age, but I don’t want to harp too much on that,” Bolt said in April 2004, according to Agence France-Presse.
But while Bolt carried enormous potential, he also was weighed down by a left hamstring injury (related to back problems and followed by an Achilles tendon issue, Bolt said in one of his books) that kept him out of the World Junior Championships one month before the Olympics and reportedly sidelined him for nearly three months that year.
“I am not where I was when I ran the world junior record,” Bolt said in Athens, according to AFP, referencing his 19.93 clocking April 11, 2004. “The good thing is, I am able to compete.”
Bolt was right on. He competed, but he wasn’t his best.
“It was too early for me, too soon in my development, and I wasn’t going to win based on how unprepared I was,” Bolt said in his book, “The Fastest Man Alive: The True Story of Usain Bolt.” “My preference had been to do the World Juniors [in July 2004]. … The Olympics [in August] should have been an occasion to look forward to. It is a significant moment in any athlete’s career, but given my poor condition I couldn’t think about enjoying it.”
He finished fifth in his first-round heat in 21.05 but needed to be 21.02 or better to advance to the quarterfinals.
“I knew it was a complete waste of time,” Bolt said of his heat in his book. “I didn’t have the heart for it. I could have got into the first four and reached the next round, but I wasn’t interested. I was in fifth place approaching the finish and could have got past the athlete ahead of me but didn’t bother. It didn’t make any sense. Even if I’d made it through, I was never going to be able to do anything and go further. I wanted to get out of Greece, which had been a very bad experience for me.”
If Bolt had made it to the final, his 19.93 world junior record would have won the silver medal behind Crawford’s 19.79.
Four years later, Bolt won the Beijing Olympic 200m in a then-world record 19.30. He reset the world record at the 2009 World Championships — 19.19 — and repeated as Olympic champion in London in 19.32.
Bolt’s run of dominance in the event at global championships appears to be in jeopardy heading to the World Championships in Beijing in August. American Justin Gatlin, who won Olympic 100m gold in Athens before serving a four-year doping ban, has the world’s two fastest 200m times since Bolt won the 2013 World title.