By Ian Chadband
LONDON (Reuters) - Usain Bolt's unparalleled career ended in extraordinary drama on Saturday as he pulled up with injury on the anchor leg of his very last race, the 4x100 metres relay final at the World Championships.
The 30-year-old had taken the baton for Jamaica a few metres adrift of the two leaders when, straining hard to catch them, he stopped abruptly with cramp in his left hamstring, began hobbling and tumbled to a halt after a forward roll.
As Britain went on to win gold, Bolt lay on his back in his lane, his head in hands, being tended to by medics as one waited with a wheelchair to help push him off the track.
Yet the sport's greatest entertainer was determined that one of the finest careers in sport was not going to end with him in a wheelchair.
So the fastest man of all-time, surrounded by his three worried team mates, Omar McLeod, Julian Forte and Yohan Blake, rose gingerly to his feet and limped the last 30 metres to the line.
The official result recorded that the Jamaicans did not finish but Bolt had been absolutely determined to ensure he completed the last race after a matchless career in which he won 19 major championship gold medals.
Typically, Bolt's only thoughts were with the team mates he felt he had let down.
"He kept apologising to us but we told him there was no need to apologise," Forte said. "Injuries are part of the sport."
McLeod added: "It just happened - Usain Bolt's name will always live on."
Justin Gatlin, the American winner of the individual 100 metres who had consigned Bolt to third place in his final individual race last Saturday, paid tribute to his rival.
"I think it was the elements (that caused the injury). I'm sorry he got this injury. He is still the best in the world," Gatlin said.
"This is farewell time, I am sentimental about it already now. In the warm-up area, we give ourselves respect and greeted each other. Usain Bolt is a great athlete."
Kevin Jones, the Jamaican team doctor, said Bolt had suffered cramp in his left hamstring.
Blake was angry at having to wait for two medal ceremonies to take place before the race.
"It was 40 minutes and two medal presentations before our run ... we were kept 40 minutes. It was crazy," Blake said. "They were holding us too long.
"We keep warming up and waiting, then warming up and waiting. I think it got the better of us.
"It hurts to see a true legend, a true champion go out there and struggle like that."
Jamaican team manager Ian Forbes praised Bolt for "going out there and giving his all" and added that the squad were "very saddened".
"The diagnostic work will be done shortly to determine how serious it is. He was able to walk to the team bus so hopefully that signals it's not as serious as it possibly could be," Forbes said.
With the 56,000-strong crowd going wild about the British victory, there was still time for them to hail the sport's favourite performer, who waved to them a mite forlornly while hobbling away from the track.
Five years ago, almost to the very night, British distance running hero Mo Farah had broken into Bolt's lightning bolt pose in this same stadium and the Jamaican had reciprocated with the Briton's trademark "Mobot" to mark their joyous supremacy at the London Olympics.
Yet in the same stadium on Saturday, they attempted in vain to reprise that triumphant night, Farah ending up with silver in his final track race, over 5,000 metres, and Bolt suffering his anti-climactic farewell.
Their leaving of the track scene leaves a void in the sport that does not look like being filled any time soon.
(Additional reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Ed Osmond/Peter Rutherford)