Usain Bolt is seemingly ubiquitous in
Jamaica, sometimes training in the
shadow of his own Puma billboard.
Jamaican pride: Usain Bolt lives it up as the world's fastest man
By Karen Fuchs,
Special for USA TODAY
8th April 2011
KINGSTON, Jamaica — Usain Bolt leans into the grandstand at National Stadium, and his beseeching fans reach out for him, calling his name in the din of the madding crowd.
Bolt belongs to the world as fastest human in its history, but he belongs first to this island nation. Saturday night, at the climax of the four-day boys and girls championships — a 101-year-old high school track meet — 25,000 Jamaicans stake their full-throated claim.
Some stars shrink from such contact with commoners. Bolt adores the adoration. Cameras roll as rapt fans in the front rows strain to touch the hem of his garment, in this case black shirt, black pants and black ball cap.
Bolt competed three times in Champs, as it's called, and still holds two schoolboy records. He's broken plenty of others since, notably world records in the 100 (9.58 seconds) and 200 meters (19.19 seconds) in the world championships in 2009.
He won three gold medals in the 2008 Beijing Games, including the 4x100 relay. Here is his master plan to mine more gold: blow away the opposition in the 100 and 200 at the world championships in South Korea this summer and use that as a springboard to repeat as Olympic champion at those distances in London in 2012.
"If I can dominate at this world championship, then I'm going to have a psychological advantage going into the Olympics," he tells USA TODAY. "Everybody is going to be like, 'Oh, God, this kid is too good.' Then they're going to be worried, really worried."
Bolt, 24, smiles widely. Worries are for others. He figures he doesn't feel stress, only gives it. Warming up before his star-making triumphs in Beijing, he looked loose and his competitors tense.
"As long as I'm in good shape, you'll always see me smiling," he says. "If I'm not smiling so much, you know there is a little bit of a problem there."
Bolt's goal of psychological supremacy by winning widely at worlds is itself a mind game, as Alfred "Frano" Francis sees it. The start coordinator for Champs was chairman of the national youth athletics program in Bolt's youth.
"He is the total package, mentally and physically," Francis says. "There is a secret I know that I'll keep because I don't want his opponents to know. But I'll say it like this: He knows how to deal with psychological games, and he takes no hostage.
"When he goes out there, he is your friend. But when it comes down to competition, it is business, and it is his business. And that's how he goes about it."
Bolt's greatest rival these days is American Tyson Gay. They are cordial. "We talk," Bolt says, "but I wouldn't say we're friends."
Gay told London's Daily Mail last week that if both were healthy next summer, he expected to beat Bolt in London: "I am the second-fastest man in history, and getting to No. 1 is what keeps me going."
Gay beat Bolt in a 100-meter Diamond League race in Stockholm last summer, Bolt's first loss in two years. Critics, including some Jamaican fans, wondered if he was partying too much.
"Some people say that," Bolt says. "I determine my life. I don't care what people say about me."
Besides, as Bolt sees it, late-night dancing relaxes him.
"I don't have a view on his lifestyle," Gay told the Daily Mail. "I don't have that much rhythm. I don't do liquor."
Bolt says he drinks only Guinness and the occasional champagne, no hard liquor.
"Dancing is good physical activity," Francis says. "So don't think about partying and dancing as negative."
Bolt is training for half a dozen meets, beginning in Rome next month, before the world championships at the end of August. There were no world championships or Olympics in 2010.
"Last year was the year for me to breeze out and try to relax and not stress so much," Bolt says. "Every four years, I get a year like last year and I go enjoy myself. I lose one race, just one race. It's not anything important."
It is 6:30 a.m. Bolt drives one of his six cars, a black BMW, into the gravel lot next to the track at the University of the West Indies. This is where he works out most mornings, usually with only a coach and trainer and some friends to run and joke with.
Today is different. Camera crews from Japan and Britain are there. He lies facedown on a rubdown table next to the track, and the cameras zoom as a trainer bends his limbs and rubs in oils. Bolt preens for the cameras, a showman before sunrise.
He strolls onto the track and runs intervals, first shorter, then longer. As he pounds down the straightaway, his own image peers over his shoulder from a billboard for Puma, his German sponsor. He works out in Puma shirt, shorts and shoes, a walking billboard — no, a running one — for the Bolt Collection.
Just after 7, the sun peeks over the mountains surrounding the spartan track. Soon he strips off his shirt in the quickly rising heat. His body looks as if chiseled by a Caribbean Michelangelo, but it is not perfect.
He has scoliosis, a curvature of the spine that led to a series of injuries that stalled his early career. He keeps it in check now with intensive exercises to build his core muscles. On this morning, as he walks back to the starting line for another sprint, Bolt holds both hands behind him, on his lower back. "Probably because I felt a little pain," he'll say later.
Bolt lies flat on the track at one point as his trainer folds him into more pretzel shapes. As Bolt rises to run again, pebbles stick to the perspiration on his back like modern art.
At last he is done. Bolt breathes hard as he trades track shoes for yellow flip-flops. He variously talks on his cellphone or calls out to nearby friends as he is stretched and rubbed one last time. Most of the cameras have enough footage by now. "Why aren't you taking any pictures?" he asks with a laugh.
At 8, he climbs back into his BMW with three pals and squeals out of the parking lot, kicking up gravel and dust. Yes, Bolt even drives fast.
"I was just putting on a show for the cameras," he'll say later.
'I perform for the people'
Bolt sees himself as more than mere athlete. He is a performer on the world stage.
"When people come to watch you, yeah, they want to see you compete, but they want to see something different, I think," he says. "And that's why I love people come to see me, because I make them enjoy watching me."
It's an interesting way to look at it — he makes people enjoy.
"That's why I classify myself as a performer," he says. "I perform for the people. And when I win, I do crazy things, so enjoy it."
He is famous for his dance moves and poses after his golds in Beijing. The one where he bends back and appears to hold a quiver in a bow, often called the lightning bolt, comes from To Di World, a Jamaican dance move.
"I put my little spin on it and made it my own," he says.
He's not settled on any dance moves for London: "I work with what is hot at the moment."
Bolt has always tested clean, but he sets records in a cynical age, when greatness on a grand scale often seems suspect.
"It's not fair, but I understand," he says. "I definitely understand why people judge. Why people want to say, 'That can't be real.' "
Bolt thinks world doping authorities are doing a good job and that track "will get cleaner over time," leading fans gradually to accept greatness again.
"People will doubt me and say a lot of things," he says, "but I know within myself that I am doing it straight."
Mom's talent, dad's heart
Bolt lives with his brother Saddiki in a condo in Kingston, about 75 miles from Trelawny, the parish in northwestern Jamaica where they grew up with sister Sherine. Today, the Usain Bolt Foundation contributes to the welfare of Jamaica's children, including funds for renovation of a Trelawny health center last year.
Bolt's parents, Wellesley and Jennifer, run a rural grocery there. He talked to them the other day, and they asked him to settle an argument over whose genes should get credit for their prodigy — Mom's or Dad's.
"I tell my dad, 'Give up, it's not you,' " Bolt says. " 'I got my talents from my mom, and I got my heart from you. So it's a good combination.' "
He can thank his parents for this: He is 6-5, 207 pounds, unusually tall for a sprinter. He runs the 100 in 40 or 41 strides, four or five fewer than competitors who are, say, 5-11 — Gay's height.
Bolt credits his father for one thing. "My dad was really strict on us," he says. "We had to stay in the yard. So if we went anywhere and we heard him coming, we had to run back to the house. … I was born fast."
His cricket coach noticed his speed as a boy and suggested track. At 15, he won a gold medal at 200 meters in the World Junior Championships, which happened to be in Kingston that year.
"I've never been so nervous in my life," he says. "I think that is what made me so good at what I do now, being relaxed. If I can win in Jamaica, there's no way I can't win in London."
'You have to have fun, man'
Billions of people have been born since the dawn of time. Bolt is the fastest on record.
"I think about that sometimes," he says. "I sit down, and it just comes to me."
His playful grin and buttery baritone make this sound more charming than boastful. Bolt laughs a lot. The way he figures it, the best way to remain the world's fastest human is to balance hard work on the track with all manner of fun off of it.
And so he drinks his Guinness, dances to all hours, plays dominoes and video games with his friends — and says he'll wait, say, 15 years to marry.
"You have to have fun, man," he says. "You definitely enjoy your life. You don't want to look back at 35 and say, 'Oh, God, I missed out.' And that's what is going to happen to a lot of these guys in London. That's why they get into so much trouble."
Here he is speaking of British soccer players who, to Bolt's taste, get married too young and then find themselves caught in what he figures are inevitable infidelities. Bolt mentions Manchester United star Wayne Rooney, who married at 22 in 2008 and recently found himself pilloried in Fleet Street tabloids over alleged extramarital relations.
"You're the biggest thing in London and you're married at 20. Why?" Bolt says. "Live your life out and have some fun. You can't do that when you're married. It doesn't look good. … They're young. Let them enjoy themselves. Let them make mistakes from now so that when they get married, no problems.
"I'm glad Jamaicans are not like that. We don't have to worry about peer pressure, 'Oh, you need to get married.' We understand the culture. We enjoy life. … Find a nice girl, get married in your high 30s, get some kids and be happy.
"A lot of people say get married before kids, but it's not like that in Jamaica, either. You can have kids and then married."
Though marriage is far off, London gets nearer by the day. Bolt thinks it is possible he can win there and go below 9.5 in the 100 and 19 in the 200. He turns 25 this summer, 26 next. "My coach says my peak will be 26," he says.
"I think if I go to the Olympics and do something extraordinary — like, say, a 9.4 or an 18 — that would make my career. … So my focus should be, yes, on the world championships coming up. But London is going to be what makes you or breaks you."