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50 People Who Matter 2011 | 23. Usain Bolt

Mr Lightning.

Despite his recent disqualification from the World Athletics Championships 100m for making a false start, Usain Bolt remains the world's pre-eminent athlete. He first broke the 100m world record in 2008 at the age of 21, in a time of 9.72 seconds. He went on to break his own record at the Beijing Olympics (running 9.69), slowing down to celebrate long before the finish line. Unsurprisingly, the Jamaican sprinter went on to run 9.58 at the 2009 World Championships, the widest ever margin of improvement. For good measure, Bolt holds the world record for the 200m (19.19). And all on a diet of Chicken McNuggets. His significance was perhaps best articulated by the mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, who presented him with a 12-foot-high section of the Berlin Wall in 2009. Bolt, he said, had shown that "one can tear down walls that had been considered insurmountable".

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This article first appeared in the 26 September 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The fifty people who matter