Let us face it, there has only been one true superstar to have gone mainstream in Athletics in recent memory, and that is the man Usain Bolt. Prior to his introduction into the scene, the sport was riddled with negative publicity stemming from multiple doping scandals of some of its biggest names.
I once wrote about how Usain Bolt saved athletics from a potential decline into irrelevance and I still hold on to that opinion firmly. Bolt's incoming into the scene was a breath of fresh air to see talent that surpassed expectations of what we thought possible and made things look easy in the process.
Bolt's era perhaps gave the entire sport (especially the sprints) the most attention it had received in years. We had tons of fans who trooped into the stadium whenever Bolt had a confirmed appearance, as well as lots of interest from media houses all over the World. Overall, I believe the Bolt Era was a net positive for the sport and he managed to do this while staying clear from any major scandals.
Unfortunately, everything that has a beginning also has an end and the Bolt era officially closed chapters in 2017 with his retirement from the sport. The year marked the beginning of a somewhat uncertain era for the sport as there was always the question of 'what next' after the Bolt era. While there is no doubt that the sport will persevere regardless, there has always been fear of losing mainstream appeal and commercial viability.
While everyone generally wants the sport to grow and receive as much appeal as soccer or the NBA, the question of how has always persisted. Athletics has always been a sport viewed more for inspiration and pride than excitement. There is a totally different atmosphere when watching the NBA for example compared to watching athletics.
That is why a superstar is somehow needed for the sport; someone to generate excitement and interest that will give fans something to cheer about. I mean many fans go to watch Athletic meetings without knowing the vast majority of athletes participating in the meets. A superstar gives fans something to look forward to.
However, it has proven incredibly difficult to create a superstar from the sport that appeals to the mainstream. Usain Bolt was an exception, not the norm. Majority of viewers are not simply willing to accept the sport at an individual level unless something big props them. Bolt for instance had the luxury of making a tough, seamless performance (he jogged at the finish line) during his breakout performance at the Beijing Olympics.
He certainly created the 'wow factor' that generally births superstars. Not to mention he also did it in the 100m Finals which is considered the marquee sport in Athletics. Replicating such a feat with the circumstances listed would no doubt be extremely difficult to do, so the next thought is to somehow hope that athletes are able to put up performances that somehow gain mainstream attention regardless.
In the next chapter I'll discuss some potential athletes that may just become the next big superstars of the sport, or at least those with the most potential.