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Usain Bolt

M A N S TANDI NG The world’s fastest man talks to Sport about running out of competitors on the track, becoming a legend and those Swedish handball girls at London 2012

Tom Oldham

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little over 24 hours before running his first competitive race in Britain since picking up three Olympic gold medals here last summer, Usain Bolt is ushered into the

beige surrounds of a conference room in an east London hotel. Around 100 journalists are waiting for the Jamaican, with dictaphones readied and pens poised to capture his every word. He’s given a brief warm-up – three or four easy questions about how much he enjoys competing in London and even where he likes to holiday – before one journalist bites the bullet. Ever since the news broke that Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell – two of the four fastest men in history – had failed drugs tests, one question could not be ignored: if they couldn’t do it legitimately, how can anyone be sure that Usain Bolt can? “I’m pleased you asked me this,” he responds. “Because I was planning to explain to people. How long have you been following Usain Bolt? Since 2007, 2008? Well, if you were following me since 2002, you’d know that I’ve been doing phenomenal things since I was 15. I was the youngest person to win the world juniors at 15; I ran the world junior record (for 200m) in 19.93s at 18; world youth record at 16. I’ve broken every record there is to break, so I’ve proven myself since I was 15. And, as my agent would say, I’m underperforming right now – so I need to step it up. But I’ve shown throughout the years that I was always going to be great, so that’s all I have to say.” It’s a monologue persuasive enough to satisfy the room, although the drugs-related questions persist in various other guises: do you trust the athletes you’re lining up against? How can you be sure you’re not taking anything that’s on the banned list, without knowing about it? Do you

use supplements? Bolt, however, stays cool, calm and collected – everything he’s always been. Fast-forward to Friday night at 9.48pm, and 60,000 camera flashes illuminate the Olympic Stadium, as Bolt strolls to his lane for the final event of the Anniversary Games’ opening day – the 100m. Despite leaving his blocks with all the urgency of a final drop of congealed ketchup that’s reluctant to emerge from its glass bottle, he blitzes the final 50m to win in a season’s best time of 9.85s. Did he purposely give the others a head start in order to test his speed ahead of the upcoming World Championships in Moscow? Bolt lets out a deep laugh before insisting: “It wasn’t planned...”

MIL LS AND BOLT

It’s now Sunday afternoon, the day after Bolt completes a double-weekend win by anchoring a Jamaican Racers Track Club team (the club where Bolt trains with coach Glen Mills), to victory in the 4x100m sprint relay. The record-breaking Olympian is in another east London hotel for media duties, this time accompanied by his agent Ricky Simms and Nugent ‘NJ’ Walker, his closest friend of 20 years – and a man who Bolt hired as his executive manager in 2010.

The most famous athlete on the planet introduces himself to Sport with a strong handshake and the following byline: “Usain Bolt, track and field.” Just in case, you know? Then it’s back to the start – that start. “It was awful,” he grimaces. “I didn’t slip or anything – it was just a bad start. I had an okay reaction time (recorded as 0.175s), but the rest of the transition was really bad. As soon as I saw my coach afterwards, he explained – but he said the good thing was that my last 50m was spectacular, and he liked how I executed. So all we need to do now is work on the first 50m, I guess.” Coach Mills will, Bolt says, look over the tapes of his races from last weekend and use them to decide how his training regime needs to be adapted between now and the first heat of the 100m in Moscow on August 10. Theirs is a partnership that began towards the end of 2004, months after Bolt’s Olympic debut in Athens – where, hampered by injury, he failed to make it past the first heat of the 200m. “He’s like my second dad now,” Bolt says softly. “He’s my mentor and my friend. He’s a coach, so yeah – he can be quite strict when he tries to explain to me to stay on the positive side of things, you know? Not to go out, not to drink – he’s like a parent. But he’s extremely awesome, and 90 per cent of the time I’m around him, I’m laughing. If you weren’t a part of the media, it would be nice meeting him. But he doesn’t really like the media that much.” Coach Mills was one of many people who felt the younger Bolt was better suited to the longer sprint distance than the marquee 100m event, >

“hOw LONG hAve yOu B eeN fOLLOw ING uSAI N BO LT ? SINc e 2007, 200 8? w eLL, If yOu w ere fOLLOw IN G Me SINce 2002, yOu’D kNOw T hAT I’ ve BeeN D O IN G pheNOMe NAL ThINGS SINc e I wA S 15 yeArS O LD” | August 2 2013 | 19

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