Usain Bolt: Run­ning ma­chine

Usain Bolt can run 100m in 9.58 sec­onds de­spite sco­l­io­sis ren­der­ing one leg shorter. His stride is likened to the per­fect me­chan­ics of a chee­tah in full sprint.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - by SIMon HAT­Ten­STone

USAIN Bolt is a freak of na­ture. There’s the size, for starters – 6ft 5in (195.5cm) with size 13 feet. Ideal sprint­ers are thought to be be­tween 5ft 11in (180.3cm) and 6ft 1in (185.4cm).

Then there’s the con­di­tion that should have ruled out a ca­reer in sport – sco­l­io­sis, or cur­va­ture of the spine, which re­sulted in one leg be­ing half an inch (1.27cm) shorter than the other.

And the at­ti­tude. At warm-up, a do-or-die in­ten­sity is etched on the faces of his ri­vals, but Bolt smiles, hangs out, even dances.

And, of course, the records. Bolt is the fastest man ever – at both 100m and 200m.

Fi­nally, and most out­ra­geously, he wasn’t even giv­ing his all when he broke them.

The world has been blessed with phe­nom­e­nal sprint­ers, but no­body can hold a light to Bolt. In 2002, he be­came the youngest gold medal­list at the ju­nior world cham­pi­onships, win­ning the 200m. He was only 15, beat­ing boys four years older than him. To put it in con­text, if Bolt didn’t ex­ist, his two ma­jor ri­vals – Amer­i­can Tyson Gay and fel­low Ja­maican Asafa Pow­ell – would be bat­tling it out to be the fastest men in his­tory.

In Au­gust, he lost his first 100m race in more than two years, to Gay, and it has been splashed across news­pa­pers that he is in­jured and will miss the rest of the sea­son. But he’s al­ready fo­cused on the two big­gies – next sea­son’s world cham­pi­onships and, most im­por­tant, the 2012 Olympics in London.

Re­spect and man­ners

Bolt, 24, grew up in a small ru­ral town in Trelawny, Ja­maica. When he was a young boy, his par­ents, who ran the lo­cal gro­cery store, took him to the doc­tor be­cause he couldn’t stay still.

“I was all over the place, climb­ing things. My mum goes: ‘There must be some­thing wrong with this kid,’ and the doc­tor goes: ‘Nooooo, he’s just hy­per­ac­tive.’”

His mother, a Sev­enth Day Ad­ven­tist, was gen­tle and for­giv­ing; his fa­ther, a dis­ci­plinar­ian who had two other chil­dren with dif­fer­ent women. Re­spect was an im­por­tant word in the Bolt house­hold. And when young Usain didn’t show enough of it, he knew his fa­ther would beat some into him. He says he could al­ways tell when he was for it, be­cause his dad be­came quiet.

“I’ll do some­thing and he’ll talk and talk, but when he’s go­ing to beat you, he just says, ‘Come here.’ He holds your hand and then he goes off.”

Look, Bolt says, he doesn’t want to give the wrong im­pres­sion – his dad may have been tough, but both par­ents were lov­ing in their own way, and shaped his val­ues.

“Man­ners is the key thing. Say, for in­stance, when you’re grow­ing up, you’re walk­ing down the street, you’ve got to tell ev­ery­body good morn­ing. Ev­ery­body. You can’t pass one per­son.” When he talks about his child­hood, he does so in the present tense. It’s a re­mind- er of how young he still is.

Cricket was his first love. He grew up when the West Indies were still a force, and he wanted to be the new Court­ney Walsh or Curtly Am­brose. He was gifted, too, open­ing the bat­ting and bowl­ing for his lo­cal side. “But I just hap­pened to run fast. They said, try track and field, and I con­tin­ued be­cause it was easy and I was win­ning.”

By the first year of high school, he was al­ready ab­surdly fast. His dad told him to give up the cricket and con­cen­trate on track and field. “He said I should do run­ning be­cause it’s an in­di­vid­ual sport, and if you do good, you do good for your­self.”

Back then, he hated his name. Ev­ery­body got it wrong. Hu­sain, Tu­sain, they’d call him, any­thing but Usain. But friends and fam­ily just called him VJ. That was the way it was in Ja­maica, he says. You got a nick­name and it stuck. Why VJ?

“My mum just said, he needs a nick­name, so let’s call him VJ. That’s a bor­ing story, in­nit?” His laugh is loud, gut­tural and full of fun.

In Bolt’s lik­able au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, his brother Sadeeki is quoted as say­ing he was the bet­ter crick­eter. Is that true? “That’s what he thinks,” Bolt says. And is he a good run­ner? “Ah, don’t even go there. My brother is re­ally, re­ally slow.” Sadeeki, eight months younger than Usain, also claims that he is the cool one, the hand­some one, more pop­u­lar with the girls. “Oh, my God! He’s al­ways say­ing that. But he’s more laid-back. In that sense, he’s cooler.”

More laid-back than Bolt? Surely that’s im­pos­si­ble. “There are things that bother me. I try not to let them, but they do.” For ex­am­ple, he says, he was so up­tight be­fore that ju­nior world cham­pi­onships fi­nal that he put his shoes on the wrong feet. “I’ve never been so ner­vous in my whole life. I was shak­ing be­cause ev­ery­body was ex­pect­ing me to win or get a medal. That one moment changed my whole life, be­cause af­ter that I was like, why should I worry?”

He still thinks it’s the great­est race of his life. “I saluted the crowd, they were scream­ing. I was 15, in front of my home crowd – no bet­ter feel­ing. Gold, record, make your coun­try re­ally proud.”


But for much of the next three years, he was in­jured. That’s when Ja­maica turned on him. His own peo­ple said he was undis­ci­plined, he par­tied too much, he was a good-time boy.

And, yes, he did like to party, but the truth was he was suf­fer­ing with the sco­l­io­sis. Ja­maicans, he says, are al­ways quick to crit­i­cise. Even now. He talks about los­ing to Gay.

“I lost one race and it’s this big thing. I went to a party and I met this girl I know, we’re good friends. I got pic­tured with her, and I got in­jured, and all of a sud­den it’s the girl’s fault. ‘Oh, Usain, he’s this, he’s that.’ It doesn’t bother me, be­cause I know that’s how they are.”

He stops and looks at me. “But they’re not as bad as you. You guys are aw­ful, man.” The English press? “Yeah, you guys are rough on ev­ery­body. You put peo­ple un­der so much pres­sure.” Take the Eng­land foot­ball team, he says. “You guys set them up by say­ing they’ve got to get mar­ried early. That’s the English way. But you’re not ready to set­tle down, and that’s where all the girl­friends come in, and all the prob­lems. You do not want to get mar­ried at 22! Es­pe­cially if you’re fa­mous, be­cause girls are go­ing to be throw­ing them­selves at you.”

He says there’s an in­evitabil­ity to the way English foot­ballers are un­done – marry young, have af­fairs, get ex­posed by the tabloids, and that’s when the real prob­lems be­gin.

“I wouldn’t get mar­ried now. It would be aw­ful. Wayne Rooney’s the same age as me – he’s mar­ried and got a kid. I don’t think these guys are ready to get mar­ried yet. There’s less stress on me if they say, ‘I saw Usain out with a girl last night,’ what­ever, cos I’m not mar­ried.”

Par­ties and drugs

I’ve never met a sports­man quite like Bolt. While so many are a frus­trat­ing mix of but­toned-up, con­ser­va­tive and grand, he is opin­ion­ated, funny and grounded. He’s not quite fin­ished with the rights and wrongs of par­ty­ing.

“With me, peo­ple say he’s al­ways par­ty­ing – well, I do party. I work hard, and I do good, and I’m go­ing to en­joy my­self. I’m not go­ing to let you re­strict me. That’s when the stress comes in, that’s when you start to lose it.”

When he par­ties these days, he says, he en­joys “a cou­ple” of Guin­nesses. And in the old days?

“Ah, I don’t want to talk about the old days! I was re­ally bad, be­cause I wasn’t re­ally fo­cused yet. I’d go all night. But I never got drunk. I don’t do drunk.”

Not sur­pris­ingly, peo­ple have ques­tioned whether some­body can run so fast with­out tak­ing drugs.

“There was one in­ter­view, and this guy was say­ing: ‘You’ve just come on the scene and now you’re run­ning world records, why should we be­lieve you?’ And I was like, first, go check your his­tory. I was world ju­nior cham­pion when I was 15. I got in­jured, and that de­layed me, but you can’t come here say­ing I just popped up.”

Was he an­gry? “I was an­noyed, be­cause he was re­ally say­ing he didn’t be­lieve me. I un­der­stand why peo­ple ask, and I say it’s fine to ask the ques­tion, be­cause sports­men have been through so much.”

The thing is, he says, he’s prob­a­bly the most tested ath­lete in the world, so he has noth­ing to worry about. When he was grow­ing up in Ja­maica, all his track friends were clean, too, he says.

But they must have been aware of all the drug scan­dals? “Of course. It was re­ally bad with sprint­ers – they’d break the record, and a year down the line you’d hear they were on drugs.”

In 2007, Mar­ion Jones ad­mit­ted she had taken steroids just be­fore the 2000 Olympics, was stripped of the five Olympic medals she won and was sub­se­quently sen­tenced to six months in prison for per­jury. For Bolt, the dis­cov­ery was heart­break­ing: “Ev­ery­body had loved her and looked up to her, es­pe­cially the fe­male ath­letes. Then to dis­cover their idol was on drugs all those years kind of messes you up.”

Bolt couldn’t have ar­rived at a bet­ter time. Just when ath­let­ics looked as if it had fallen into per­ma­nent dis­re­pute, here was a man who looked and acted so dif­fer­ently from those who had gone be­fore. But he still man­aged to bring his own unique brand of con­tro­versy with him.

In 2008, he had to plead with his coach to let him run the 100m in Bei­jing. He had been run­ning the dis­tance for less than a year, and was sur­viv­ing on a diet of chicken nuggets at the Olympics. Not only did he win gold, he broke the 100m world record with a time of 9.69 sec­onds and, most as­ton­ish­ing, started beat­ing his chest in cel­e­bra­tion 15m be­fore the fin­ish. He was ac­cused of show­boat­ing, of not try­ing hard enough. In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee pres­i­dent Jac­ques Rogge said: “I think he should have more re­spect for his op­po­nents.” How did he feel about the crit­i­cism?

“It caught me off guard. I was wor­ried that I re­ally over­did it. But then I went to a cou­ple of the other guys and said, ‘Did you feel I dis­re­spected you?’ And they said, ‘No, if we’d won, we’d have prob­a­bly done the same thing.’ I was just happy. That was all the joy com­ing up.”


In the build-up to his “proper” event, the 200m, he played around with his hair, demon­strated his new sig­na­ture pose (based on a Ja­maican dance rather than, as of­ten as­sumed, a light­ning bolt) and set a new world record of 19.30 sec­onds. He fol­lowed that with a third gold, in Ja­maica’s 4x100m re­lay team.

A year later, at the world cham­pi­onships in Ber­lin, he smashed his own world records to win golds at 100m in 9.58 sec­onds and 200m in 19.19. Again, it looked as if he could have gone faster.

His team say, with­out a hint of a smile, that once he knuck­les down he can break 9.4 sec­onds. Bolt him­self says he can run faster. So does that mean he’s lazy?

“Yeah,” he says en­thu­si­as­ti­cally. “Yeah, I am lazy. There’s no doubt about that.”

Ricky Simms, his man­ager, is sit­ting in with us. Does he agree with that as­sess­ment?

“Yes, he is lazy. But when he trains, he trains very hard. The im­age on the track is that he just turns up and runs, but it isn’t true. If you play foot­ball with him, he wants to beat ev­ery­body. He’s very com­pet­i­tive.”

The thing is, Bolt says, be­ing laid­back ul­ti­mately helps him run faster. “On the track, that is just my per­son­al­ity com­ing out, me hav­ing fun. But it also helps me to re­lax. Back in the day, these guys were so tense, and then you make mis­takes. So I have to let ev­ery­thing flow. That’s my way.”

Tyson Gay, on the other hand, looks as if he could ex­plode with ten­sion when he pre­pares.

“That’s just who Tyson is. I don’t think Tyson goes out. He’s a real shy per­son, just loves track and field, does ev­ery­thing right. We don’t talk that much, be­cause he doesn’t re­ally so­cialise. I’ve never seen him at a party.”

Did it bother him when Gay beat him?

“No,” he says con­vinc­ingly. But there seems to be a ten­sion be­tween the two of them, I say. He nods. “Of course. When Tyson was beat­ing me early on, we were friends, and then, when I started beat­ing him, ev­ery­thing went the op­po­site way. He didn’t talk to me that much. I guess he’s just one of those ath­letes who al­ways wants to be win­ning.”

But what if the sit­u­a­tion were re­versed and Bolt was reg­u­larly los­ing to Gay? “That would be hard for me. I couldn’t deal with that.”

Would he re­gard it as fail­ure if, say, he won a cou­ple of sil­ver medals in 2012? “Yes, I would, be­cause you set a stan­dard for your­self.”

Would he quit? “No, be­cause I’d want to re­deem my­self.”

We’re talk­ing about sport­ing leg­ends, and I ask whether Carl Lewis won gold for sprint­ing at three Olympic games. He laughs. “I don’t know the his­tory of my sport. I’m not like those peo­ple who know ev­ery­thing.”

What does he think makes him such a great run­ner? He looks a lit­tle blank. Per­haps the height helps and those huge strides, he sug­gests. “A lot of tall peo­ple don’t have good co­or­di­na­tion, but my coach says the one thing he can re­lax about is that I learn re­ally quickly.”

“Take off your clothes,” Simms says to him, out of the blue. We both look shocked.

“I can’t ask him to do that in an in­ter­view,” I say. “It’s not pro­fes­sional.” Bolt just sits there gig­gling.

“Look at his body,” Simms says with pride. “He’s a spec­i­men. The first time I took him to the track, the stride was like noth­ing I’d seen be­fore. You know on the Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel, you see chee­tahs, the way their feet move, the way the me­chan­ics of their body work? He’s sim­i­lar. The me­chan­ics are so per­fect, and the strength he can gen­er­ate from his hips, his ham­strings and his quads, ev­ery­thing is per­fect for run­ning.”

We head off to a makeshift stu­dio to get Bolt’s pic­ture taken and this time he does strip down to his undies. Simms is right, he is a spec­i­men – more race­horse than man. What’s it like to run so fast, to race the wind?

“You don’t re­ally think dur­ing a race,” he says. He clicks his fin­gers ur­gently. “It’s just, what do I need to do now? Bang bang. When I get out of the blocks, I need to get this first turn­ing, bang bang. There’s no time to think. I’m just happy when I’m fin­ished.”


I ask about his am­bi­tions. Ul­ti­mately, he says, he’d love to make a go of play­ing foot­ball pro­fes­sion­ally. He’s be­ing deadly se­ri­ous.

One of the perks of be­ing Usain Bolt is that sport­ing stars love to meet him, so when­ever he’s trav­el­ling and there’s time, he tries to train with a top foot­ball team. Last year it was Manch­ester United, re­cently it was Bay­ern Mu­nich.

He’s still car­ry­ing a copy of the French sport­ing news­pa­per L’Equipe, which fea­tures a spread on his foot­ball skills and praise from Bay­ern man­ager Louis van Gaal. He shows me a photo of him­self with his arm wrapped round the dwarfed 6ft (182.2cm) Ger­man for­ward Miroslav Klose.

“If I keep my­self in shape, I can def­i­nitely play foot­ball at a high level,” he says.

“With his phys­i­cal skills, I reckon he could play in the Premier League,” Simms says.

But be­fore that, Bolt says, there is so much more he has to achieve on the track. He can’t wait for the 2012 Olympics; he says it will be like a home gig, be­cause there are so many Ja­maicans in London. And if he wins dou­ble gold there, then he might be pre­pared to rest on those con­sid­er­able lau­rels.

“Peo­ple al­ways say I’m a leg­end, but I’m not. Not un­til I’ve de­fended my Olympic ti­tles.”

He smiles. “That’s when I’ve de­cided I’ll be a leg­end.” – Guardian News & Me­dia 2010

In full flight: Usain Bolt holds the record for the 100m (9.58sec) and 200m (19.19sec) sprints. And he’s been crit­i­cised for not even giv­ing his all when he broke the records.

Strike a pose: Usain Bolt at a London event last month to pro­mote his book UsainBolt:MyS­tory:9.58: Be­ingTheWorld’sFastestMan. Bolt says his sig­na­ture pose is based on a Ja­maican dance rather than, as of­ten as­sumed, a light­ning bolt.

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