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In the last two seasons I’ve had the privilege of asking two giants of our sport the same question at the end of their luminous careers:
What do you hope your legacy is?
Photo Credit: Bundeswehr Karriere
My opportunity to ask Usain Bolt came at the 2017 London World Championships in his last press conference as a track and field athlete. I posted his reply here that same evening, and it is posted below.
When I asked German discus great, Robert Harting, the same question at the 2018 European Championships, I was struck by the similarities in their answers.Robert Harting, August 8, 2018
Value by Character
Discus king Robert Harting - Olympic and three-time World champion - was disconsolate after his 6th place finish in the European Championships on August 8.
Naturally, he spoke German with the huge German press corps in Berlin. When he turned to leave, I prevailed upon him for one question in English. He was gracious enough to agree.
“Actually, I am not in the best condition, mentally,” Harting said.
I replied with a fond memory for him.
“2009 – We all remember what happened on your last throw (he won the World Championships title in Berlin, the city of his birth). What many remember also is the next day: you were on the track surrounded by children. Signing autographs, answering questions – they all came up to your knees!”
He dropped his head, listened intently, and allowed himself the makings of a smile.
“What do you hope your legacy is? What do you hope you have left to the next generation of athletes in Germany and worldwide?”
“This is a good question,” he replied, deep in thought. “Maybe it’s easy to answer with one word: ‘Value’.
“I always brought my values to the sport and that’s why I can expect values coming back to me; not from the audience but from politics and things like this.
“This is maybe the best way I can describe it. What I tried all the time is: value by character and value by sports achievements.”
“I think that’s reflected in what you gave to the children that day.”
“Hopefully, they took it!”
before the 4x100m heats, London World Championships
photo credit: Getty Images for London 2017
Usain Bolt, August 13, 2017
Don't Think Limits
Usain Bolt's final press conference of his career was held at London Olympic Stadium after the World Championships had concluded with a special tribute to him.
Bolt was thoughtful, reflective, and funny, and he gave careful consideration to my inquiry about his legacy. This is a transcript of our exchange, with minor editing.
“Much has been made of your forthcoming absence from the sport, but instead, what do you think you have left that will help the sport to grow in the future? What do you think your legacy to the sport of track and field is?”
“I’ve proven that with hard work anything is possible. My motto says 'anything is possible; I don’t think limits.'
“For me, I was actually sitting down today and doing an interview and it was ironic that my motto says 'anything is possible - don’t think limits' and no one would ever feel like I’ll be beaten in a championship. And I feel that it shows a high level to the kids: continue trying in anything you do.
“I feel I’m on the wrong end of this situation (laughs wryly, referring to his 100m bronze), but I personally feel this is a good message to the kids: work hard, be strong, and let’s push on; and for me, if I can leave something like that to the younger generation - that with hard work, no matter what’s going on, you can be the best that you can be - then that’s a good legacy to leave.”