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Usain Bolt is down to his last, blazing curtain call

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Muhammad Ali stood alone on many fronts, but Joe Frazier, George Foreman and a few others still stood toe-to-toe with him in the ring. Jack Nicklaus contended with Arnold Palmer on the front end of his career and Tom Watson on the back end.

Usain Bolt? Nobody has been a match for him, on or off the track.

The man who reshaped the record book and saved his sport is saying goodbye. His sprints through the 100m and Jamaica’s 4x100m relay at the world championships, which begin Friday, are expected to produce golds yet again, and leave track with this difficult question: Who can possibly take his place?

“You would have to have someone who’s dominating, and no one’s doing that,” said Michael Johnson, the former world-record holder at 200m and 400m and perhaps the sport’s brightest star in the 1990s. “You’d have to have someone who has that something special like he has, in terms of personality and presence. You’re not going to have that.”

Though he will not retire undefeated, Bolt stands in the rarest of company: an athlete who was never beaten when the stakes were greatest. And with a showman’s flair as transcendent as his raw speed — Chicken McNuggets for dinner, his fabled “To di World” pose for dessert and dancing away at nightclubs till dawn — he hoisted his entire, troubled sport upon his shoulders and made it watchable and relevant.

Since his era of dominance began in 2008, Bolt went undefeated at the Olympics — 9 for 9 — in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m. (One of those medals was stripped because of doping by a teammate on the 2008 relay team.)

He has set, and re-set, the world records in all three events. His marks of 19.30, then 19.19, at 200m, were once thought virtually impossible. He set a goal of breaking 19 seconds in Rio last summer, and when he came up short, it became clear the barrier will be safe for years.

At the world championships, Bolt’s only “loss” came in 2011, when he was disqualified for a false start in the 100m. Jamaican teammate Yohan Blake won the title that year, as well as the Jamaican national championships at 100m 200m leading to the London Olympics. Heading back to London five years later, Blake is an afterthought.

And Bolt’s mastery of this sport remains unchallenged.

“I’ll be sad to see someone like him go,” said America’s Justin Gatlin, Bolt’s longest and sturdiest challenger, who has been disingenuously portrayed as the brooding bad boy set against Bolt’s carefree party guy. “He’s such a big figure in our sport. Not only is he a big figure, but the kind of guy who always will be a competitor when he steps onto the line.”

Though it’s tricky to compare dominance in track to that in any other sport, there’s an element of Nicklaus in Bolt’s dominance. Impressive as his 18 major championships are, Nicklaus’ 19 second-place finishes and 73 top-10s spoke to his ability to get into the mix in most of the majors over the quarter-century while he was collecting titles. Nicklaus had to fend off Palmer, Watson, Johnny Miller and a dozen other legitimate contenders at every event. Bolt hasn’t faced anything like that.

Yet they shared this important similarity: Often, the contests were over before they even began. Or, as Tom Weiskopf once said: “Jack knew he was going to beat you. You knew Jack was going to beat you. And Jack knew that you knew that he was going to beat you.”

At the worlds two years ago, Gatlin had Bolt beaten in the 100m but leaned in at the finish line a microsecond too early. Bolt passed him and won by .01. The American all but admitted he psyched himself out.

Speaking to the pressure of racing someone such as Bolt, the Scottish sports historian and former Olympic coach Tom McNab compared sprinting to running in a tunnel.

“And once you become aware of what’s happening outside your tunnel, you’re in trouble,” he said.

In boxing, Ali wasn’t necessarily unbeatable, but he was incomparable as both a sharp-witted showman and an athlete with a social conscience, using his platform to preach tolerance and oppose war.

Bolt hasn’t sought that sort of impact, at least not yet, but it’s hard to overstate the mark he made on his troubled sport and, thus, the Olympics, which have long featured athletics as the must-see event of the final two weeks.

Over years and decades, the showcase sport of the Olympics has devolved into a sordid litany of doping scandals. The latest concerns widespread corruption and cheating in Russia, and heading into Rio, it undermined not only the sport and its managers, but the Olympics and their leaders’ willingness to deal with it.

But when Bolt sauntered onto the track, flashed a peace sign and blew a kiss to the crowd, all was forgotten. Not just for the 9, or 19, seconds while he was running, but for the entire evening and beyond. He made track, and thus, the Olympics, eminently watchable.

He’ll do it one more time on a smaller stage – track’s world championships – but a stage with plenty of symbolic meaning.

When he headed to London for the Olympics in 2012, Bolt held all the records, but was portrayed as vulnerable, following the false start, a long list of nagging injuries and his losses to Blake.

By the time he left, he had pretty much anointed himself as the greatest. Four years later, he said that was precisely his goal: “To be among Ali and Pele,” he said.

He’s on that list, but when the lights go out after the relays Aug. 11 – 10 days before his 31st birthday – it will be time to say goodbye.

“Once he’s gone,” McNab says, “there’s no major personality that would make any significant impact at the world level.”

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MORE: Bolt barely wins last race before worlds

Reno-Tahoe drops 2030 Winter Olympic bid

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If the U.S. bids for the 2030 Winter Olympics, it will not be with Reno-Tahoe.

The Nevada/California region ended its pursuit of becoming a U.S. bid city, at least for an Olympics in the near future. The U.S. is expected to bid for 2030, and the U.S. Olympic Committee last year named Reno-Tahoe, Denver and Salt Lake City as cities that expressed interest.

“We have maintained from the start that a Reno-Tahoe bid would have to make sense economically, environmentally and socially,” Brian Krolicki, chairman of the Reno Tahoe Winter Games Coalition, said in a press release. “Given the parameters and conditions presented, we cannot make the numbers pass muster. To continue, at this point, would be untenable and unwise.”

The coalition noted the Los Angeles 2028 Summer Games having exclusive Olympic marketing rights from 2019 through its Closing Ceremony as an obstacle.

The region hosted the 1960 Winter Games in Squaw Valley, Calif. Since, the U.S. has hosted two Winter Olympics — in Lake Placid in 1980 and Salt Lake City in 2002. It hasn’t hosted a Summer or Winter Games since, its longest drought since the 28-year gap between 1932 and 1960.

The International Olympic Committee vote in 2019 to choose the 2026 Winter Olympic host city could impact a potential U.S. 2030 bid. The remaining 2026 bidders are Calgary, Stockholm and an Italian bid with Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo.

Calgary’s bid hinges on a public vote Tuesday. North America has never hosted back-to-back Winter Olympics.

Olympic host cities are traditionally chosen seven years beforehand.

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MORE: IOC board nominates 3 bids for 2026 Olympics

Shaun White eyes his longest break from snowboard contests

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Shaun White said he has no plans to compete in snowboarding this season, which would mark the first time he goes a full year without entering a contest.

“I normally take every season after the Olympics off to clear my head,” White said in a statement via his team. “This time around I’ll be filling my time with skateboarding.”

White said in July that he would lighten his snowboard schedule as he returns to skateboarding competition. The triple Olympic halfpipe champion is considering a Tokyo 2020 run in the new Summer Olympic sport.

White entered his first skateboard contest in years in September and called his performance “pretty terrible,” but not surprising given it was his first-ever bowl event.

White earned five X Games skateboard medals between 2005 and 2011, but all of those came in vert, which is not on the Olympic program.

“Honestly, I am here to see how things go,” White said at the September event in Marseille, according to Agence France-Presse. “I haven’t made a decision either way [on 2020], I just figured, want to have some fun, skateboard, come to France and then hopefully make a decision come new year if I’m really going to go for it or not.”

As for snowboarding, White has typically eased off in post-Olympic years. In 2010-11 and 2014-15, his only contest was the Winter X Games, according to World Snowboarding, whose results show that White’s longest break from contests was 11 months.

White has said he would like to go for a fifth Winter Games in Beijing in 2022. He would be 35, older than any previous Olympic snowboarding champion. He’s already the oldest halfpipe medalist.

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