The Bolt ex­press

The story of an im­mensely gifted man who was lucky enough to make the right de­ci­sions and lis­ten to the right peo­ple.

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Faster Than Light­ning: My Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy Au­thor: Usain Bolt

Publisher: Harper Sport, 291 pages, non-fic­tion

TH­ESE are the chron­i­cles of Usain Bolt, the Ja­maican sprinter who has be­come a global su­per­star in the track and field arena. The reign­ing 100m, 200m and 4x100m world record holder with six Olympic gold medals to his name, writes the story of his hum­ble be­gin­nings in Trelawny, Ja­maica, and his rise to in­ter­na­tional su­per­star­dom in this book.

None of the bullish de­mo­li­tion of his ri­vals, the af­ter­race flam­boy­ance, or the fancy poses and dance cel­e­bra­tions on tracks around the world pre­pared me for the self-ag­gran­dize­ment that is a re­cur­ring theme of this au­to­bi­og­ra­phy.

From the first chap­ter en­ti­tled “I Was Put on This Earth to Run” to the boast­ful dec­la­ra­tion of “I am a liv­ing leg­end. Bask in my glory,” at a me­dia con­fer­ence dur­ing the 2012 Lon­don Olympics, Bolt lit­ters his life story with the kind of self-im­por­tance many would ar­gue is a trait of cham­pi­ons. For­tu­nately, Bolt’s easy go­ing na­ture and funlov­ing char­ac­ter does make the ego­tis­ti­cal over­tones eas­ier to ac­cept.

Hav­ing said that, I couldn’t help but be amazed by the sheer tal­ent of Usain Bolt and his in­sa­tiable de­sire to be the best at what­ever he does. He talks can­didly about pick­ing up golf and al­most im­me­di­ately giv­ing up the sport be­cause he knew he would never be the best at it. Even with other sport­ing pas­sions, like cricket and foot­ball, that he does not com­pete in, Bolt shares that his com­pet­i­tive na­ture al­ways drives him to win at all costs. And this drive is mir­rored in ev­ery race – ev­ery loss is trans­lated into an in­tense de­ter­mi­na­tion to avenge it, and ev­ery win keeps him hun­gry for more.

In the book, Bolt sheds light on the ri­val­ries be­tween the world’s top run­ners, es­pe­cially the bat­tle be­tween him and Amer­i­can sprinter Tyson Gay. Ac­cord­ing to Bolt, the 2007 World Cham­pi­onships in Osaka, Ja­pan, marked the start of the in­tense rivalry be­tween the two when, fin­ish­ing sec­ond, Bolt re­alised he was “able to step up in the big­gest events ... I was on Tyson Gay’s tail for real”. But be­ing able to step up wasn’t enough for Bolt, who was dis­sat­is­fied with com­ing in sec­ond: “I had only one thought on my mind: Yo Tyson Gay, you got lucky.”

The book is a great read for track and field fans, as Bolt al­lows the reader into the ca­ma­raderie be­tween the es­teemed Ja­maican sprint­ers, the in­tense train­ing that makes him the fastest man in the world, and per­sonal de­tails of his con­ver­sa­tions with his coach, Glen Mills. It was Mills, for in­stance, who con­vinced Bolt he was gifted, point­ing out that the world’s best sprint­ers take 45 steps to fin­ish the 100m while Bolt would only re­quire 41 due to his height. This and the high stan­dards the coach set for him spurred Bolt to be­lieve in his abil­ity and to start work­ing to­wards achiev­ing un­prece­dented suc­cess.

Track fans will also love the chap­ters on the 2008 Olympics in Bei­jing and the 2012 Olympics in Lon­don. De­tails of the train­ing in prepa­ra­tion for the Olympics, and the men­tal ex­hil­a­ra­tion and phys­i­cal ex­haus­tion ex­pe­ri­enced as Bolt broke three world records in Bei­jing are chap­ters that prompted me to search for clips of the races on the In­ter­net to re-live the mo­ments. The Lon­don Olympics also of­fered a lot of fun de­tails, es­pe­cially on the words ex­changed be­tween Bolt and his fel­low coun­try­man and ri­val Yohan Blake as their psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare in­ten­si­fied to­wards race day.

Bolt also re­veals de­tails of his bat­tle with sco­l­io­sis (an ab­nor­mal curv­ing of the spine), his con­stant quest for fit­ness, and his fight against fa­tigue and lazi­ness. Through th­ese hon­est rev­e­la­tions, Bolt comes off as an ath­lete with com­mit­ment is­sues, which only adds to the won­der of all his achieve­ments.

His di­etary in­dul­gences (chicken nuggets), his late night par­ty­ing, and dal­liances with fast cars and loose women are all openly dis­cussed, in­clud­ing the 2009 car crash from which he was lucky enough to emerge un­scathed. I could see the bat­tle that he fights day in and day out in man­ag­ing his celebrity sta­tus while still try­ing to main­tain the dis­ci­pline to stay on top, and Bolt makes it ev­i­dent through his mis­giv­ings that this is eas­ier said than done.

In my opin­ion, the book does not rep­re­sent a mo­ti­va­tional story about a man’s hard slog to the sum­mit of suc­cess. It is not the story of dis­ci­pline and de­ter­mi­na­tion that takes a per­son through tur­bu­lent days. Rather, Faster Than Light­ning is the story of an im­mensely gifted man who has re­alised his po­ten­tial by mak­ing a few right de­ci­sions and lis­ten­ing to a few good peo­ple. And that, I think, is the ul­ti­mate take away mes­sage.

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