Usain Bolt makes debut as soccer player for Australian A-League
Usain Bolt made the leap from sprinter to soccer player.
Usain Bolt, eight-time Olympic gold medalist and world record-holder, made his soccer debut Friday, playing about 20 minutes in his first pro game.
Bolt, considered by many to be the greatest sprinter of all time, has been training with Australia's A-League Central Coast Mariners as he attempts to re-invent himself as a professional soccer player. Friday's preseason match was part of an indefinite trial period for Bolt, who has yet to be signed to a team.
Fans were eager to see if the speed and athleticism Bolt is known for will carry over to the soccer field, and almost 10,000 people attended the game, according to The Associated Press.
Bolt took possession of the ball seven times, managed one shot on goal and completed two out of five passes, according to Fox Sports Australia.
He was clumsy with the ball at first but settled in and had a shot on goal blocked at one point, according to the AP.
“I was a little bit nervous, but as soon as I got on the field the nerves went away," Bolt said after the game, according to Fox Sports Australia. "I wish I had more touches, but I’m not fit yet.”
Before the game, Mariners team captain Matt Page was convinced Bolt is capable of greatness.
"If anyone deserves an opportunity, it's someone that knows what it takes to get to the very top of their field," Page told Reuters.
This is not the first time a renowned athlete has attempted to segue from one sport to another.
Michael Jordan, former Chicago Bulls basketball legend, notably transitioned to minor league baseball in 1994. Jordan's stint in the minor leagues was largely underwhelming, and he returned to play for the Bulls in 1995, leading them to three more of his six total championships.
Tim Tebow, a former Heisman Trophy winner, is pursuing a career in minor league baseball after a short but polarizing NFL career. Though a fan favorite, it's unlikely Tebow will advance to the majors.
A smooth transition is possible, as evidenced by Renaldo Nehemiah, an Olympic gold medalist in track and field who went on to a Super Bowl-winning career as a wide-receiver for the Dallas Cowboys.
Bolt's move has garnered massive attention for the Mariners, who ended last season at the bottom of the A-League. Some have questioned if Bolt's attempted transition is a publicity stunt, though others believe he'll be an asset to the sport. Bolt insists he is serious about pursuing a career in soccer.
"The more I play, the more comfortable I get," Bolt said at a press conference before the game, adding that he was still in the learning process.
Hugo McWilliam, a reporter for Fox Sports in Australia, thought Bolt's potential addition to the Mariners is advantageous for a team that hasn't qualified for the finals in years.
"The move is a success in terms of sponsorship and and fan attendance," McWilliam said before the game. "Fans are flocking to training sessions and games just to see Bolt. Everyone is definitely more likely to watch the games, even if he's just sitting on the bench. Tonight is the first ever pre-season friendly that has been televised in A-League history."
Bolt, who is training as a forward, had his first full practice session with the team on Tuesday. He admitted to struggling with the speed of the game, but said he's committed to pushing himself and putting in the necessary work to improve.
"I expect to make mistakes, but I also expect to go there and make myself proud," Bolt said ahead of the game.
Mariners head coach Mike Mulvey said before the game that Bolt was still adjusting to the fitness required of the game, but called Bolt "determined, and said he expects him to play in some capacity in the match.
"I'm quite pleased with the way he's progressing,” Mulvey said at a press conference, adding that even he couldn't predict the strides Bolt will make. "When Usain Bolt walks in a door, you don't know your standards."
Ricky Simms, Bolt's agent, also told ABC News his client was progressing well.
"He is looking forward to the next nine months here," Simms said.
While Bolt was candid about his nerves before the match, he noted that the season doesn't officially begin until October, giving him time to focus and dedicate himself to improving.
"I know when I get on the field," he said, "I'm always going to push myself to the limit."