Usain Bolt: The story behind one of athletics’ most iconic images

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In 2013, Usain Bolt had the world at his feet.

The Jamaican had been dominating athletics ever since he announced himself to the world at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. By the time the World Championships rolled round to Moscow in 2013, Bolt had achieved an almost mythical status on the track.

On a stormy evening in the Russian capital, with thunder and lightning crashing in the sky, he stormed to another impressive victory and the pictures from that night – of Bolt sprinting to gold with lightning in the backdrop – have become as iconic as the man himself, thanks partly to French photographer Olivier Morin.

Lightning Bolt

Morin, working for Agence France Presse (AFP), had covered Bolt at several big events and had long been trying to capture one specific image of the superstar athlete.

Morin speaks of the enormity of Bolt’s 6ft 5in frame and compared his trademark celebration to that of an albatross – his arms outstretched like the bird in full flight.

The 58-year-old said he thought he had missed the opportunity to capture his dream shot – but what was waiting for Morin when he looked back on what he had taken was even better.

“When I saw it directly on my laptop, just a few seconds before I sent it to my desk, I knew it was going to be a good photo. A good photo only,” he says.

Morin continued: “Bolt, bolt – I made the relation right away, of course. And I knew it was going to be a good photo for me. It was not a great photo because it was still in my mind to have his arms open.”

It is safe to say that Morin had underestimated the reception that his picture would receive.

Bolt’s approval

Days later Bolt began his quest to win gold in the 200 meters, and after qualification the 100m and 200m world record holder was handed a print of Morin’s famous photo.

“‘This photo is worth a thousand words.’ That’s what he [Bolt] said,” Morin says, smiling.

The pair reunited two years later during the World Championships in Beijing and discussed the image.

Morin remembers their reunion fondly and chuckles, adding that Bolt said: “‘You know, I still have your photo in my home.’ And I said, ‘I hope you still have it. I won’t be able to do it a second time.’”

Double satisfaction

Bolt’s legacy on the track will forever be in the record books. But he is also remembered as the supreme showman, the athlete who transcended his sport with his talent and personality.

“For me, he is exactly what a sportsman is supposed to be like,” explains Morin. “Relaxed, being serious [but] not taking himself seriously, very laid back, having fun with everyone, spending more time after the race in the stadium than before the race and smiling.

“It gave me double satisfaction that I was able to make this photo of the kind of athlete I love and I admire a lot,” he says.

Making your own luck

It is clear that sports photography is a combination of many different elements: skill, instincts, experience, and often the most important trait – luck.

“When we are lucky to be talented, it’s a good thing. But if you’re talented to be lucky, it’s even better,” he said, recalling words of wisdom a colleague once passed on.

The veteran photographer believes that some of the luck he has enjoyed throughout his career is a reward for the time and effort he has put into honing his craft.

“In sports photography, it’s like sportsmen themselves, they try many things sometimes to score a goal or to do something. I think I am like that. I try things until I get it,” Morin says.

The photographer firmly believes that “trying is always rewarded,” and it is safe to say that Morin’s years of hard work capturing Bolt were rewarded. Ten years on, it is still remembered.

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