KINGSTON, Jamaica (AFP) – World athletics chief, Sebastian Coe, says Usain Bolt will retire as the “Muhammad Ali of track and field”, hanging up his spikes as the greatest sprinter of all time.
Coe was at Kingston's National Stadium on Saturday to watch Bolt run his last race on Jamaican soil before he retires at the World Championships in London.
In an interview with AFP on Sunday, International Association of Athletics Federations chief Coe said he had been determined to pay homage to Bolt as his glittering career begins its victory lap.
"Just instinctively you knew it was going to be a big moment," Coe said.
"This is where his home is. I sense people here recognised that there was going to be an outpouring of emotion and warmth last night which I just wanted to witness.
"And what was fascinating is those people who came up to me who had flown in from other continents to be here. People instinctively knew that they were going to witness something that was going to be special and unique, and it was."
Bolt duly delivered a 100m victory in 10.03 seconds for a sea of 30,000 fans bedecked in yellow and green.
Coe said Bolt will retire from the sport as the greatest sprinter of all-time, a rare athlete who transcended his sport and appealed across the sporting spectrum after dominating at three consecutive Olympic games.
"He has not just reached the level he has in terms of global presence because of three back-to-back Olympic Games or because of the world records," said Coe, who set eight world records in middle-distance track events, including three in the span of 41 days in 1979.
"He has a charisma that I haven't seen in my sport in my lifetime other than with Ali and I put them in the same category.
"When Ali went we had the same conversations. But along came Sugar Ray Leonard and Floyd Maywether, Roberto Duran and Manny Pacquiao . We had great, great fighters. But have they soared to the level of the great Ali? No. But they kept the sport exciting and fresh.
"You can't take away the massive social contribution Jesse Owens made in 1936 and you can't argue with the extraordinary contributions other sprinters have made. But there is only one guy sitting at the top of the heap and you wouldn't have a split jury on that."
This may be Bolt's last race in Jamaica but he has a couple more events before he caps his brilliant career by running the 100 metre in Worlds which goes from August 4-13.
"He is going to come to the World Championships and yes that is a fitting place for him to end his career considering what he has done globally," said Coe.
"But you only have to spend a few moments with Usain to know that this is where he will forever be emotionally anchored."
Coe said as a former Olympic gold medal winner in the 1,500 metre he can understand why Bolt would want to bow out now.
"He probably has instinctively realised this is the right moment. There comes a point at which the candle flickers a bit," he said. "No athlete wants to be asked the question why didn't you retire sooner?"
Coe said Bolt, who has the world record in both the 100m and 200m, can retire in peace knowing that he gave it his all for 15 years.
"Sit back, think about it. You are just into your 30s and you have won three Olympics Games back to back, you broke the world records and so maybe there is not a lot left to accomplish.
"He is also comfortable in his own skin. He will always be a national treasure and that is just enough, just enough."