TThe fastest man in history is pondering how much more destructive he could have been on the super peaks that have thrown a wrecking ball on so many world records. Briefly, there is a battle between diplomat Usain Bolt and competitor Usain Bolt. The competitor wins. “A friend and I were talking about this the other day,” he tells The Guardian. “And I was like, ‘Should I be upset?’ Because I know that over the years everyone has tried to make different and better peaks, but … “
Bolt emphasizes that he is not concerned that the current crop will destroy his world record of 100 meters of 9.58 seconds or his best 200-meter record of 19.19 seconds. Yet he seems uneasy about where the arms race in footwear technology will lead. “How can I argue if World Athletics decides it is legal? I can not do anything about it. The rules are the rules. I don’t think I’m completely happy, but it’s just one of those things. “
He wants to make one thing absolutely clear: he would have gone much faster on the new wave of super peaks, which feature super-light foam that returns energy and is said to be worth at least a tenth of a second in 100m. You are just not sure how much. “We’ve guessed it and talked about it, but I’m not sure,” he says. But definitely much faster. Below 9.5 seconds for sure. Undoubtedly. “
It’s a forceful statement, but the greatest and most popular athlete of his generation is just getting started. When asked about Britain’s Adam Gemili’s promise to kneel on the podium at the Olympics in support of Black Lives Matter, he doesn’t procrastinate or play at being a politician. “If you believe in something, you must. It is something that we have to make the world aware of what is happening with racism. “
While the International Olympic Committee recently reiterated that protests on the pitch and podium are banned, Bolt suggests they are swimming against the current. “I have seen it in a big way in football now. If a track athlete decides to do it, they should be able to express their opinion. “
It is rare for Bolt to grant an exclusive interview with a British newspaper and rarer still to hear him so thoughtful on so many subjects, including fame and failure. Such sentiments are generally not associated with someone who won 134 of his 146 races between 2008 and 2017, winning eight Olympic gold medals and 11 world titles along the way. But when Bolt looks back on his career, he thinks he was able to win 200 meters of gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics when he was 17 years old.
It may sound absurd, but Bolt presents his case with the thoroughness of a Harvard law professor. He thinks people forget that, at 16, he ran 20.13 seconds to finish 2003 in ninth place in the world. But after moving to Kingston and discovering Burger King and nightclubs, he didn’t always want to train. That, and a subsequent injury, meant he did not make it out of the playoffs in Athens.
“In 2003, I was running faster than almost everyone,” he says. “If I had raced in the world championships that year I probably would have won a medal. And if I had continued down that path, I would have raced 19 seconds earlier in my career, so I sure could have won gold in Athens if I had dedicated myself more. “
“But it was difficult for me because even in high school I was famous. Everyone knew who I was in Jamaica. And I didn’t have anyone who’s been through that already to say, ‘You have to take this seriously, because this is what you can do.’ It was just my coach telling me to train hard.
“That’s why now I try to talk to the younger athletes and explain ‘get serious, early man.’ Because the possibilities are endless. “
There is a second confession. After Bolt’s career ended with him falling to the track after breaking his hamstring during the 2017 world championships in London, he was twice tempted to return. “It was something I thought about in the first and second years after I retired,” he says. “I even went to my coach. But he said: ‘It’s going to be more difficult than before, coming back will not be child’s play.’
“When I look back, I don’t regret it. I did extremely well in my career. It is true that it did not end on the best note, but the legacy that I left is wonderful. “
Bolt has been asked for years if he will run again. So far the answer has always been no, but on July 13 he will return to the track above 800m, a distance he has never run professionally, in a promotion for the American firm CarMax. The challenge, which will be broadcast live Bolt’s Facebook PageIt’s cheery: Can you get around your local Kingston circuit two times faster than a CarMax customer receives a live online evaluation offer, a process that typically takes less than two minutes? – but he says he takes it seriously.
“I train every day of the week. I still do a lot of cardio. And I’m also on my Peleton. Now I just need to tune in on the track and increase my lung capacity. “
You look fit, I say. He laughs. “I have tried to stay in shape because my friends told me that when I retired I would get fat and I was like ‘no way’. So I can’t let myself go when I have been bet that it will happen in the next six to eight years. For me, it is a matter of pride. I’m not going to let them win. I’m not going to give you the satisfaction. “
So how could it almost run 800m? “My PR is around 2:05, but when I put the nails in, I think I can take five seconds off.”
Given that you are only 34, could you be tempted to go back to racing properly? “No, no, definitely not. This is just a challenge. Even now, I need something to challenge myself. “
For the past three Olympics, Bolt has been the closest sport has had to a religious experience. Even the mere mention of his name would create a wall of sound in the stadiums of Beijing, London and Rio, while his familiar burst of incontestable speed and joy somehow always seemed to gawk and smile at the same time. Bolt acknowledges that Tokyo will be a very different and difficult experience for athletes caught in the bubble, as well as the few spectators allowed. But he believes that a combination of a fast track and warm conditions will lead to spectacular performances.
Unsurprisingly, it’s the 100 and 200 meters that excite him the most, but his answer comes with a twist. “The women’s final will certainly be more interesting,” he says. “That is what I look forward to the most. Women have really stepped up and led the way for a few years. “
He talks about the trainer-eyed protagonists, noting how Jamaican favorite Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce has changed her stride pattern to be faster and how Britain’s Dina Asher-Smith looks much stronger than when she won 200 meters of gold in the 2019 world championships.
“Dina has already proven herself to be one of the best athletes in the world,” says Bolt. “But she keeps pushing to be the best and beat the best. You see that she goes to work. She has dedication. If there is a conversation about who is going to win Olympic gold, she is part of it. “
But when asked who he would bet his money on for the 100 million, he opted for his compatriot. “Shelly-Ann has the advantage because of her experience, as long as she doesn’t push herself too hard. But Dina is her closest rival.”
Before Covid struck, Bolt intended to go to Tokyo as a fan, watching as many sports as possible, with fencing particularly on his bucket list. Instead, he will be in Kingston, watching as he plays with his three children, Olympia Lightning Bolt, who turned one year old in May, and twins Thunder Bolt and Saint Leo Bolt, two months old. He would love for them to take up sports, but says a fourth son, who could create an unrivaled mixed 4x400m relay team, is not going to happen.
When asked what parenting has taught him the most, Bolt instantly replies “patience.” That could be good news for athletics. While most of his current attention is on a nascent music career, he hints that he may still have unfinished business with the sport that he dominated for so long.
“In the past, my biggest problem was being patient with athletes,” he says. “But when you have children you have to be much more patient. That made me think about training. I sat down with my coach and started thinking about different things, how he writes his show and things like that, so you never know. Maybe in the future I will take on the challenge. Let’s see what happens. “