Michael Johnson Says Usain Bolt Should Slow Down

As this year's track-and-field season ends, one thing is clear: there is no one like Usain Bolt. Jesse Owens, Carl Lewis, and I broke our share of records. And every sport has its young phenom—its Tiger Woods, its Wayne Gretzky, its Michael Jordan—who breaks records and catapults himself into stardom. But the astonishing thing about Bolt is that he's just 22 and has achieved every accomplishment possible for a sprinter: he has won world championships and Olympic golds and has broken—indeed, demolished—world records in the 100-meter and 200-meter races. At the World Championships in Berlin this summer he broke records he himself set at the Beijing Olympics last year by more than 0.1 seconds in each, to 9.58 seconds and 19.1 seconds, respectively.

But now it might be time for Bolt to slow down. Physically, there is no doubt he can continue to compete, and there is no telling how fast he might go one day. But mentally, it is a different story. The most difficult thing for a young, accomplished athlete to do is to figure out how to stay motivated. For an athlete who knows before he even arrives at a race that he's going to win—and one who has already made money and achieved celebrity status, as Bolt has—one has to wonder: where is the drive going to come from? Yes, he could go faster, shattering records yet again. But he has done in two years what it takes other athletes, including myself, more than a decade to do. What else is there to accomplish?

Next year is not a world championship or Olympic year, which are the big years in track and field. So it might be a good year to take time off, focus on charity efforts, refocus on another track event, or just limit the competition perhaps to the Commonwealth Games so that he can participate with his home team, Jamaica. But there is still another reason why it would be good for Bolt to take a break. He has rekindled interest in track and field in America, a nation where team sports generally dominate. But as fast as he is, Bolt will not be breaking records with every race, and over time his speed will begin to take some of the thrill out of watching track events. After all, with Bolt in the race, we already know who is going to win.