Monaco - Usain Bolt, winner of a sixth IAAF Athlete of the Year award on Friday, remains a beacon for clean athletes amid doping and corruption scandals that have mired the sport in recent times.
As athletics emerges from its darkest hour fighting to restore its credibility, the reality for track and field is that it will soon have to cross that rocky road without Bolt.
The Jamaican, who sealed an amazing third haul of three Olympic sprint gold medals in Rio, will compete at next year's world championships in London as his swansong, meaning the next Olympics in Tokyo will not feature one of sport's most recognisable figures.
"The man is a genius," IAAF president Sebastian Coe said of Bolt in Rio.
"There's been nobody since Muhammad Ali who's got remotely near to what this guy has done in terms of grabbing the public imagination."
Bolt will not be lost to the sport, however, with Coe saying he envisaged the Jamaican, so often able to deflect bad news with his on-track performances, playing a key role in years to come.
"I've been very clear, I said 'Whenever you decide to do other things, let's make sure in that portfolio of those things you will obviously want to go off and do, we don't lose you from the sport'," Coe continued.
"I'm very intent on that," he said, adding: "It's one of those discussions that probably you can in reality only have once someone's got their competitive years behind them.
"He's in no doubt at all about how the sport feels about him and certainly how I do as a president."
Bolt insisted it was "mission accomplished" after signing off with a 'treble-treble' in his final Olympic race, predicting that his achievements may never be broken.
The world's fastest man anchored Jamaica's 4x100m relay team to gold on a balmy Rio night to capture the 100m, 200m and relay titles for a third straight Games.
"I hope I've set the bar high enough that no one can do it again," said Bolt.
"I'll have to make a new bucket list now, I've achieved all I wanted to in track and field."
Bolt, who has now won an astonishing 20 Olympic and world titles, matched American sprinter and long jumper Carl Lewis and Finnish long-distance runner Paavo Nurmi with nine Olympic golds.
Lewis won his between 1984 and 1996, while Nurmi racked up the same tally in the 1920s.
Bolt insisted all of his gold medals were special.
"They all mean the world to me," he said. "It's nine - all of them are special and they all came along at the right time.
"I've proven to the world I'm the greatest so it's mission accomplished!"
Bolt had been up against Briton Mo Farah, who claimed a historic Olympic
double-double in the 5 000m and 10 000m, and South Africa's Wayde van
Niekerk, whose Olympic gold medal-winning run in the 400m also eclipsed
the world record set by Michael Johnson.
In the female category, Ethiopian Almaz Almaz claimed the title after smashing the 10 000m world record in Rio.
beat off competition from Jamaican Elaine Thompson, who won golds in
the 100m and 200m in Rio before helping Jamaica to a silver medal in the
4x100m relay, and also Polish Olympic hammer champion and world record
holder Anita Wlodarczyk.
Previous 10 winners of the IAAF Athlete of the Year awards after Usain Bolt and Almaz Ayana were crowned on Friday:
2016 - Usain Bolt (JAM) Almaz Ayana (ETH)
2015 - Ashton Eaton (USA) Genzebe Dibaba (ETH)
2014 - Renaud Lavillenie (FRA) Valerie Adams (NZL)
2013 - Usain Bolt (JAM) Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (JAM)
2012 - Usain Bolt (JAM) Allyson Felix (USA)
2011 - Usain Bolt (JAM) Sally Pearson (AUS)
2010 - David Rudisha (KEN) Blanka Vlasic (CRO)
2009 - Usain Bolt (JAM) Sanya Richards (USA)
2008 - Usain Bolt (JAM) Yelena Isinbayeva (RUS)
2007 - Tyson Gay (USA) Meseret Defar (ETH)
2006 - Asafa Powell (JAM) Sanya Richards (USA)