IT’S TOUGH AT THE TOP!
Posted: Sep 08, 2012
Usain Bolt may appear to be the epitome of cool but behind the scenes, he’s been working furiously to remain the fastest Man on Earth
Ever since Usain Bolt won his triple gold medal haul at Beijing 2008, the Jamaican sprinter has become as famous for his electrifying personality as for his superhuman speed.
Effervescent and extroverted, Bolt has never lacked confidence. When he was a boy, his coach Pablo McNeil never divulged the remarkable times on his stopwatch to keep his pupil grounded. When Bolt boarded the plane to Beijing, he recorded a video of himself on his mobile phone repeating the words: ‘I am going to win three gold medals’. He was true to his word, setting new world records in the 100m (9.69s), 200m (19.30s) and , with his Jamaican teammates, the 4 x 100m Relay (37.10s), becoming a global superstar overnight.
But it was Bolt’s crowd-pleasing, quirky character that endeared him to the watching millions. Before the 100m final, Bolt ate a pre-race meal of chicken nuggets, danced in front of the cameras and psyched himself up thinking about computer games. He ran with his left shoelace untied and, unknown to anyone, a missing spike, then flapped his arms in celebration before he had even crossed the finishing line.
A year later at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, Bolt repeated his triple gold medal success, shattering his own world records, running an astounding 9.58s in the 100m and 19.19s in the 200m. He celebrated by performing Jamaican dance hall jigs on the track and playing a five-hour DJ set in a Berlin nightclub.
Since the end of London 2012, Bolt remains the star attraction of international athletics. A global television audience of four billion people watched him compete and over one million fans applied for tickets to witness him perform in the mens 100m final on 5 August. But he showed no sign of nerves to the outside world.
'When I heard that all those people applied for tickets for London, I thought, "Wow, amazing,'" says Bolt. 'Big audiences give me energy and make me feel excited. Showing my fun personality and joking around has been good for the sport. I've really mixed things up. When people see me playing around, it gets everybody excited and people want to watch. I'm looking forward to putting on a great performance in London.'
Bolt's vivacious personality is completely natural, but it has led to the erroneous perception that he doesn't train, lacks discipline and survives on natural talent alone. Bolt himself is happy to perpetuate the myth. On his Twitter account he described himself as 'the most naturally gifted athlete the world has ever seen.' Yet this isn't the full story.
Usain Bolt is a fiercely driven competitor and a dedicated, hard-working athlete. If his talent seems effortless, it's because he trains hard to make it that wow. If he always looks relaxed, it is because he knows that this is the best way to overcome his nerves.
At the University of the West Indies running track in Kingston, Jamaica, where Bolt trains, away from the glare of the world’s cameras, the sprinter completed his preparations for London 2012.
The training base is not what you might expect. It is rudimentary, quiet and surprisingly basic. University students wander around oblivious to the presence of the fastest man on Earth. Piles of rubble lie by the track. There are no sports scientists and no state of the art facilities, just an oval track, a few benches and a solitary toilet in a security guard's hut.
But Bolt's preparations are detailed, precise and intense. He rises at 6.30am to train. Under the tutelage of his coach Glen Mills, he performs endless sprints, plyometric drills, stretches and gym exercises. He sharpens up his sprint technique, tackling his slow starts - Bolt's 6ft 5in frame actually puts him at a disadvantage during the opening phase of any sprint as he regularly struggles to unfurl his limbs and corrects flaws such as the way he grazes his toe on the floor during his first stride and practises running bends for the 200m.
He also conducts an intensive regime of core exercises to neutralise his scoliosis (Bolt suffers from a curved spine which has left him with one leg longer than the other). It is through this quiet, unseen sweat and toil that Bolt makes the most of his natural talents and overcomes his physical defects, which are often ignored.
Bolt is surprisingly dedicated off the track too. Despite the chicken nugget stories making it seem as though he is a junk food fanatic, the truth is that Bolt deliberately ate food he was familiar with in Beijing 2008 to avoid an upset stomach. At his home in Kingston, Bolt employs a chef to ensure he consumes all the nutrients and vitamins his body needs to train.
In contradiction to his image as a party animal, he said he hardly had an alcoholic drink in the build-up to London 2012 and to spent his time playing computer games or dominoes with his friends or relaxing under the shade of the fruit trees in his garden.
Bolt approached London 2012 with one clear and unshakeable ambition: to become a sporting legend like Tiger Woods and David Beckham. 'My goal has always been to be a legend,' he says. 'Anyone can win in one Olympics but I want to win again and again. If I get more golds in subsequent Olympics I will become a legend so that is the most important thing for me. If you do great things, people will remember you. I work much harder than anybody thinks. I cannot be any more focused than I already am, trust me. My coach knows I’m training hard every day. My dad worked very hard and I always work hard because of him. I want to be a legend and this is what it takes.
It is also a myth that he has never experienced nerves. At the World Junior Championships in front of his home crowd in Kingston in 2002, the 15-year-old Bolt was so nervous he put his spikes on the wrong feet, but he won gold in the 200m final.
'That day made me who I am today,' he says, 'I realised that if I could win in front of my fans, I could 'win anywhere so I decided to never worry again, to relax and be confident.'
When the television cameras focused on the Jamaican sprinter as he limbered up, danced and joked around in the Olympic Stadium this summer, fans around the world smiled but the cameras won't tell the whole story. Bolt worked hard to reach his position of confidence and composure. Nor is his playful demeanour meant to disrespect his opponents. It simply forms an essential part of his focus.
'I can only control what I do so that is why I don't worry too much about others,' he says. If you think about one person, you start thinking about another person and soon you're not focusing on yourself which is all that matters, I know that when I'm confident and on form nobody can beat me.'
London felt like a second home for Bolt this summer. It is a little known fact that during the summer months, he trains in the quiet suburb of Teddington, heading to local restaurants for food and spending his evenings at the Cinema.
London also has a large Jamaican population who were cheering his every stride, “I think London was one of the best Olympics ever,' he says, 'It was very special for me because I have a lot of fans in London and there are so many Jamaican people living there too, was like one big party, I hope I made everybody happy.’
Culled from Official London 2012 Magazine
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