Since his early days racing his peers for a bet at school in Trelawny, Jamaica, he has gone on to astonish crowds the world over with his raw talent. It was in 2004 that the world really began to take notice when at the age of 18 Bolt won his first World Championship gold medal and began his career of breaking records by also becoming the first junior sprinter to complete the 200 metres in under 20 seconds. Fast forward 13 years and Bolt has now become a household name with a staggering 8 Olympic gold medals and 2 world records under his belt.
The Jamaican sprinter has been a hard character to get to know ever since appearing on the world stage, lauded for his innumerable accomplishments. He has equally been questioned over his laid back ‘partying’ approach to track and field, which he is constantly forced to defend when it takes precedence over his achievements in the media’s depiction of him.
Whilst it feels like the rest of the sporting world has been demonised through the doping lens, Usain has remained elevated both morally and physically above the rest of the field, outshining all his contemporaries including Tyson Gay and the man at the centre of that doping controversy Justin Gatlin, who has been snapping at Bolt’s heels ever since he appeared. Those memorable images of Usain smiling at the camera while cruising down the track in the 100 metres Rio Olympics semi-final are just proof of his authoritative command over his peers.
Most people would probably agree that he possesses the same charisma as other sporting legends like Michael Jordan or Serena Williams, with that infectious mystery that everyone wants a piece of. That ability to lure the crowds into a frenzy, what will he do next? Unfortunately for the legions of supporters he has amassed across the globe, Bolt has announced that he will be hanging up his spikes for greener pastures after a final performance at the World Championships in London this summer.
As the years have gone by, Bolt’s natural talent, which has always served him so well, has been subjected to the fate of injuries and competitors, meaning he has needed to work increasingly harder to stay at the top. The effort of a gruelling training regime and less of the work/life balance that he so cherishes is an aspect of the career that Bolt admittedly doesn’t relish, confessing in the 2016 documentary I Am Bolt that he does not like doing things he doesn’t enjoy. This is probably where his passion for the sport has started to wane. Having already given the world so much joy, who knows what the future holds for Usain Bolt, what remains is an incredible legacy and a staggering world record time of 9:58 seconds for the 100 metre sprint.
We were lucky enough to catch up with Usain, in an exclusive Q+A about his career so far and why Usain is going out on top:
Is it true that your career started with a bet over a free lunch? Looking back it’s probably the best bet you ever took?
Yes, that is a true story. At primary school, my cricket coach promised me a box lunch if I could win a race.
Is there a way you would describe the Jamaican culture to the rest of the world?
I would invite them to come and see it for themselves. Jamaica is a beautiful country with great weather, great beaches, great food, great music and great people who love to enjoy life.
What is going through your mind when you’re racing?
My races don’t usually last very long so I just think about the things my coach has told me to work on like keeping my shoulders relaxed or holding my form at the end.
It’s said that injuries have been your greatest rival over the years, but who has been your greatest human rival?
There isn’t really one person as it has changed so much over the years. At the start of my career it was Wallace Spearmon, then over the years people like Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell, Justin Gatlin. Every year is different.
What does it feel like to be the fastest living human on earth ever? Is it describable to us mere mortals?
It feels good. There are a lot of people in the world and to say that I am the fastest ever is a good feeling.
When we spoke to your documentary filmmakers Gabe and Benjamin Turner about their film I Am Bolt they said, “Every year [Usain] sort of wonders if his powers will all be gone.” Do you constantly surprise yourself when you do win?
No, it is just at the start of the year when I am getting close to my first race that I wonder if I still have the speed that I had in the previous year. The early season races are always a good guide to what I need to work on in training ahead of the Championships.
Does it feel lonely sometimes being up there on the top for so long? Do you have chats with other top athletes about that like the Williams sisters, Roger Federer etc.?
I really enjoy meeting other sportsmen and women who have been very successful. I think no matter what sport someone does we share a lot of the same characteristics and face similar challenges.
What’s the greatest piece of advice someone has passed to you?
From a young age my parents taught me to treat people with respect no matter who they are and I try to remember this in my life.
You’ve been known for partying and living life to the fullest. Do you think this ability to switch off is key to your success?
I think talent and hard work is the key to my success but I am not one of those people who likes to be serious and think about T&F all the time. I like to enjoy other things and for me, I believe it helps my performance.
You’re one of the highest paid athletes in the world. How do you like to spend your money?
I have a good team around me that manages my investments. It’s funny that the more famous you get the less things you have to buy. I like cars – that is probably the thing I spend the most on.
What’s the biggest misnomer about you?
Part of being famous is that people, especially the media, make up a lot of things about you. In some cities, I go for a meal and the headlines are that I was partying all night.
A lot of people are talking about 12-year-old Brianna Lyston. Are you confident Jamaica will be able to produce an heir to your throne?
I always say that athletes should not be labelled as the next Usain Bolt, especially when they are very young. It is important to give young athletes space to develop and improve without putting pressure on them.
You’re 30 now, you’ve said you will retire after this year’s World Championships in London. Any predictions there?
I love competing so I will really miss the excitement of walking into a big stadium and hearing the crowd shout and scream. However, I am going to London to defend my titles.
What’s next for you in this phase of your life?
I have a lot of things going on. My management team tell me I will be even busier when I retire.
Is there a particular philosophy you have towards life?
Anything is possible, I don’t think in terms of limits.
What would you like your legacy to be?
I hope to be remembered as one of the greatest sportsmen of all time, someone who performed on the track and brought happiness to everyone watching.