Usain Bolt, the greatest sprinter in track and field history, retired last year at the IAAF World Championships, heartbreakingly pulling up in his final race, the 4×100 meter relay, with a hamstring injury.
But once he healed, Bolt turned his attention to another favorite sport: soccer. On Friday, he made his professional debut, as a trialist with the Central Coast Mariners of the Hyundai A-League, the top level in Australia.
Nineteen minutes, one shot
Bolt came on in the 71st minute of a game the Mariners were dominating; they were playing a preseason friendly with Central Coast Select and were up 6-0 when Bolt came on.
The 32-year-old Jamaican has been training with the Mariners since Aug. 18, and there is no timetable on how long he’ll be with the club.
The crowd of just under 10,000 gave him a loud ovation when he stepped onto the pitch, an uneasy smile on his often-beaming face. Bolt made the sign of the cross on his chest, and ran into position at left wing.
Wearing No. 95, a nod to his 100-meter world record time of 9.58 seconds, Bolt played the final 19 minutes and he had seven possessions and one shot.
‘I was a little bit nervous’
The world-record holder in the 100- and 200-meters, Bolt said in a post-match interview that he had some butterflies.
“It was good; it was what I expected,” Bolt said. “The crowd really gave me a good ovation, I really appreciated that.
“I was a little bit nervous, but as soon as I got on the field I think the nerves kind of went. I wish I had more touches but I’m not fit yet. I just got to put in the work, get up to speed, and I’m looking forward to a great season.”
Bolt said he thinks it will take two months for his fitness level to be where it needs to be, but at least twice that long for him to get to where he needs to be in terms of knowing his teammates, improving his touches and “playing like one of the guys.”
Bolt believes in Mariners
An eight-time Olympic gold medalist and 11-time World Championships gold medalist, Bolt wasn’t quite ready to compared his Mariners experience to, say, his incredible performance at the 2008 Summer Games.
“It’s hard to compare; it’s my first one,” he said with a chuckle. “It was a great feeling, but right now I’m just trying to get used to the guys. It’s a wonderful moment to actually get to play at a high level, to play professional football, so that’s what I’m happy about. I think along the line when I start winning championships with this team, because I really believe in them, the moment will be higher and higher. But right now, I’m just happy to be here.”
Bolt agreed with one of the interviewers that it will be helpful for him now that the coaching staff has him on tape, so they can break down areas where he needs to improve.
The Mariners finished 10th in the 10-team A-League last season.