With accusations of doping, cover ups and bribery at the highest levels, it’s been a tumultuous year for the sport of athletics.
But Britain’s double Olympic decathlon champion Daley Thompson believes track and field still has one thing still going in their favor — a megastar in the shape of Usain Bolt.
“For athletics, he’s really important because he’s probably the one reason that we’re not ranked with tractor-pulling and mud-wrestling because he really is an incredible athlete,” Thompson told Amanda Davies.
“I think that it’s going to struggle once he hangs up his spikes. And they’ve only got a little bit of time to find a couple of people who are going to sort of try and take his place,” Thompson added.
Read: Countdown to Rio Olympics
Jamaica’s Bolt thrilled sports fans with his triple gold medal-winning and record breaking performances in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay events at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China.
He matched that Olympic medal haul in London, England, four years later and will look to do so again in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, later this year.
But the 29-year-old Bolt has previously stated that he will consider retirement either after the Rio Games or a year later at the end of the 2017 World Championships which will be held in London.
Read: Should we panic about Rio Olympics?
Life after Bolt
Thompson, who won Olympic gold at Moscow 1980 and four years later in Los Angeles, insists the sport has to prepare for the post-Bolt era.
But how do you replace someone as charismatic as the world’s fastest man?
“I think it’s about finding some other people that are really fantastic for the shop window because I think all sports need somebody or some people … that you can relate to and be emotive about,” said Thompson.
He added that although there are currently many other fine athletes in their prime, such as Mo Farah and David Rudisha, few have the star-appeal of the camera-friendly, gregarious Bolt.
“If you go to music there are some great singers out there but not everyone sings Frank Sinatra or Rod Stewart,” Thompson said.
“You know, you pay your money and you take your chance. Mo Farah is an unbelievable athlete but he just doesn’t click with the public like Usain Bolt does,” he added.
Thompson was speaking alongside the UK’s five-time Olympic gold medal-winning rower Steve Redgrave and American double Olympic 400m hurdles champion Edwin Moses during a CNN roundtable event recorded at the recent Laureus Sports Awards.
And both Redgrave and Moses backed up the thrust of Thompson’s argument.
“Usain’s a performer … not just an athlete on a track,” Redgrave said. “He entertains everyone that’s around, a little bit like Daley did when he was competing. He was bigger than the discipline that he was doing.”
Moses agreed, adding that making a mark in athletics often requires something more than pure sporting efficiency.
“People are attracted not just because of your performance but how you go about it and how much they know … you personally to put into that sport,” Moses said.
“And that’s what’s not apparent in our sport anymore.”