Usain Bolt is a genius and has had as big an impact on athletics as Muhammad Ali did on boxing, says Lord Coe.
Sprint legend Bolt, an eight-time Olympic gold medallist, is set to retire after the World Championships in London, which begin on Friday.
Coe likened the Jamaican, 30, to former world heavyweight champion Ali, one of sport’s most iconic figures.
“He is the best sprinter of all time,” said Coe, who is president of the sport’s world governing body the IAAF.
“Usain Bolt is a genius. I can’t think, other than Muhammad Ali, of anybody that has so had an impact inside or beyond their sport.
“You can have the Friday-night-in-the-pub conversations about who is best footballer or tennis player, but there is no argument about this guy in sprinting.”
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Bolt won 100m, 200m and 4x100m gold at the past three Olympic Games – Beijing 2008, London 2012 and Rio 2016.
However, his unprecedented ‘triple triple’ of nine gold medals was downgraded to eight after Jamaican team-mate Nesta Carter, part of the quartet who won the 4x100m in Beijing, tested positive for a banned substance. Carter has appealed against the decision.
Bolt is also an 11-time World Championship gold medallist, and has won the 100m title three times.
We shouldn’t be sitting there saying you are suddenly going to find another Usain Bolt any more than just boxing suddenly found another Muhammad Ali,” Coe told BBC Sport.
“What we will miss is the personality. We do want athletes with personality. It’s nice to have someone who has a view and fills the room and fills a stadium.
“We are not going to replace Usain Bolt – not because you are not going to have a trophy cabinet full of three back-to-back Olympic doubles and relays and World Championships – you are just not going to replace him because his personality dominated not just our sport but pretty much every sport out there.”
Coe, who won Olympic 1500m gold in 1980 and 1984, said it would be “virtuous” for both Jamaica and global athletics to keep Bolt involved in the sport after his retirement and that “discussions” had taken place.