Rio Olympics : Usain Bolt – the world’s fastest man by those who know him best
The only time Usain Bolt has “ever been slow” was when the Jamaican arrived 10 days after his due date. Mum Jennifer said she knew her son was special by the time he was three weeks old – but while every parent harbours high hopes for their children, not many witness them go on to become the fastest man on earth.
Bolt is chasing a “treble treble” in Rio, with the 100m crown the first box ticked off a list that also features 200m and 4x100m glory at what the 29-year-old has promised will be his final Olympic Games.
Bolt has come a long way from the playful child who learned to run in the parish of Trelawney, Jamaica and would cry when he lost a race.
“He doesn’t like to lose,” dad Wellesley told BBC Sport.
Seven Olympic gold medals, 11 world titles and a hatful of world records means there has been little time for tears throughout his career.
“At school, it was at about five that we noticed that he was competing against his classmates and he was always winning,” said Jennifer.
“He was always on top. From then, we noticed he would be a great athlete.”
Usain Bolt indebted to PE teacher
Growing up alongside brother and sister Sadiki and Sherine, Wellesley says his son was “very jovial” and despite a few problems he did “nothing out of the ordinary for a child”.
Meanwhile, at William Knibb High School, a young Usain was more interested in playing cricket than hitting the athletics track, saying he was “so in love” with the sport “he didn’t want to do anything else”.
The teenager eventually heeded the advice of PE teacher Lorna Thorpe, who told Bolt he must focus on athletics if he wanted to reach the top as he had “a gold mine in his legs”.
“It’s a passion. You ask Usain, he’ll tell you that. It’s just a passion,” she added. And the champion certainly appreciates his teacher’s influence now. “She’s like a second mum,” he said.
“When I was in high school she looked out for me, she was always on me in school, making sure everything was OK, always focused. So she played a very big part for me.”
Usain Bolt school
However, acting principal at the time Lorna Jackson had to teach the teenager, who was an “average but popular student”, a thing or two about mixing with the opposite sex.
“A happy-go-lucky guy. Everyone liked Usain,” she told the Sunday Telegraph. “I remember in grade nine there was a girl, there was some liking going on there, and she was helping him with his writing.
“And then we were talking in class about girlfriends and boyfriends and someone said Usain had a girlfriend at a neighbouring school. I said, don’t write anything else for him!”
Jackson also taught Bolt Spanish: “I remember him coming back to the school and telling the children, learn your Spanish because I remember Miss Jackson saying to me, you, Usain, are going to be going places and you need to make sure you learn Spanish.
“He was telling them he went down to South America and he saw some beautiful girls, and it came back to him that if he’d paid more attention to his lessons he would have been able to communicate better.”
The coming of age
Usain Bolt wins the World Junior Championships 200m gold in 2002. By the time he was 15, Bolt was “the talk of the world of athletics” after racing to the 200m World Junior Championship title in Jamaica in 2002 against men four years his senior.
It made him the youngest ever world junior gold medallist, while he also won the International Association of Athletics Federation’s Rising Star Award.
American colleges were quick to offer the young star sports scholarships, as were sports agencies looking to tie the future Olympic hero down to a contract.
Irishman Ricky Simms was a young, ambitious sports agent who had taken over at one of the premier sports management companies in the world, and he was the man who won the Jamaican’s signature.
“After graduating from high school, Jamaican athletes traditionally go to university in the United States and spend four years there before they turn professional,” explained Simms.
“He decided he was going to turn pro in 2003 rather than go to university and it was recommended that he to talk to us.”
But Bolt’s early flawless performances on the track were not quite so composed off it, with the teenager sometimes getting so nervous before big races he would be brought to tears.
“When I talked with him he stopped crying and I think he thought about it and he said: ‘OK mom, I’m going to do my best’,” his mum Jennifer told CNN about those junior championships in 2002.
“I said the Lord is with you and I’m gonna pray for you and he just goes out there and when I saw the race I saw him in front and the crowd started to shout his name.
“I think that helped to motivate him because he could hear the crowd in the stadium shouting.”
Bolt the inspiration
Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin share a joke at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing. The future was at Justin Gatlin’s feet as the American, having already served a doping suspension, took the 100m Olympic crown as a 22-year-old in 2004 and a teenager named Usain Bolt was eliminated in the 200m heats.
By the time the 2008 Beijing Games came around Brooklyn-born Gatlin was in the middle of a four-year doping ban and Bolt had truly arrived on the scene, smashing the American’s winning time in Athens and scooping his first three gold medals across the sprint disciplines.
Gatlin took bronze as Bolt defended his 100m title four years later in London, and at last year’s World Championships their rivalry was renewed once more when the Jamaican edged the American by 0.01 of a second.
“He proved that when he’s down, he can come back up, and when he’s up, he’s up the highest,” Gatlin told NBC.
“That’s the kind of guy you want to set your sights on and go after. He gave me a vision of where I needed to be.
“When you think about track and field, you think about Gatlin and Bolt. We are showmen. We are true competitors.”
Having met at the World Championships in Beijing their mothers are now friends and, despite a fierce on-track rivalry, the sons enjoy each other’s company away from competition too.
“Bolt has a good time,” said Gatlin, 34, about a couple of nights out the pair have shared.
“We are able to relax and have fun outside of track and field, but when we step on the track, we want to beat each other.”
Bolt the mentor
Jamaica’s 4x100m relay team of Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake, Nesta Carter and Michael Frater won gold at London 2012
Bolt’s Jamaican team-mates past and present are by no means slouches, Asafa Powell twice set the 100m world record between 2005 and 2008 while former world champion Yohan Blake took silver in both the 100m and 200m at London 2012.
But while Jamaica’s men’s sprint team know the chance of a 4x100m gold is greatly improved by Bolt’s place in the quartet, their own individual medal aspirations are not.
He is the first athlete to win consecutive Olympic gold medals in both the 100m and 200m and has won seven world titles in those races since 2009, only missing out on the 2011 100m crown because he was disqualified for a false start.
So what’s it like being one of the world’s best, in the presence of a history-making great?
Powell will not race in Rio, but the 33-year-old has said how important Bolt’s presence at major championships is to the sport.
“It’s good for the sport to have him since he’s the world number one and world record holder,” Powell said in 2015. “It’s good to have him in the race to draw the crowd and excitement.
“Everyone wants to beat him. He is very strong and he is very fast.”
Powell has in the past toyed with trying to play mind games to get an advantage on his team-mate, but admits their friendship comes first.
“There are times when I said to myself ‘I’m going to make our rivalry like a Tyson and Holyfield match’ but I just can’t find the energy to put out that kind of trash talk,” he said in the Daily Mirror.
“I really wouldn’t mean it. We’ve been friends before the world record and Olympic Games and nothing has changed, he has only got a lot more famous.”
And when Powell finished a disappointing seventh at the World Championships last year, Bolt responded with a supportive message for his compatriot.
“Bro just keep strong. Ppl don’t get this journey and sacrifice we all put into this,” he tweeted.
As Blake, three years Bolt’s junior, was coming on to the scene, the future Olympic champion was already acting as a mentor to his teenage prodigy.
Bolt was in the crowd as Blake won a youth race in Jamaica in 2008, telling the youngster who had recently joined his training group not to burn himself out, adding “you still have a big career to come”.
Blake told Newsweek he could not believe Bolt knew who he was: “I was just so appreciative [of his advice],” he said. “You know, that’s just the kind of guy that he is.”
When speaking to BBC Sport, Blake added: “He always sets the bar high, which I really like. As a youngster you have to aim high.”
The serious joker
Glen Mills puts a 19-year-old Usain Bolt through his paces in Kingston. Glen Mills was head coach of the Jamaican national team for 22 years, before moving on to concentrate on working with his sprinters at Racers Track Club in Kingston, Jamaica.
He has coached athletes to more than 100 world and Olympic medals, with that tally healthily advanced by one Usain Bolt.
After his disappointing Olympic debut in Athens, Bolt turned to Mills and the man with more than 42 years’ coaching experience set about shaping a champion.
“Usain is an extremely gifted athlete,” Mills told Speed Endurance.
“When I started working with him, one of the things that stood out like a sore thumb was his poor mechanics. He was running behind the centre of balance. This resulted in a negative force against his forward drive and it was affecting other areas.”
Mills said Bolt’s style was continually causing him hamstring problems.
“We set about doing drills,” he added. “Then we took videos of his workouts and broke them down on the screen in slow motion to show him exactly what he was doing. I would draw diagrams and show him the position that we are working to achieve.”
Bolt’s determination to work on the areas that were hampering him turned him into a global star, and he has done it all with a smile on his face.
“Usain works very hard,” added Mills in the Evening Standard. “But he also mixes it with his juvenile character. People need to know he takes his training and his races very seriously.”
Mills also has supreme confidence in his most decorated athlete.
“We take all competitors with a level of seriousness and I don’t see Gatlin as a joke,” he said before last year’s World Championships. “But the truth of the matter is Usain at his best doesn’t have much to worry about.
“Those kinds of things don’t affect us in any way because Usain and myself know what we can get him to do when he’s fully fit and ready.”
So what’s it like to compete against a 6’5″ ‘fully fit and ready’ Bolt?
“We were in awe, man, we were in awe of what just happened,” Darvis Patton, who finished eighth in Beijing, told Sports Illustrated about the night Bolt won his first Olympic gold and smashed the world record in the process, lowering it to 9.69secs.
“The way it happened. The dude ran nine-six. Celebrating.”
Marc Burns of Trinidad and Tobago added: “I was just getting ready to breast the tape, and I heard this huge roar and I thought, Oh, could be an upset. Then I looked up and Bolt is halfway around the turn, celebrating.”
The future for the fastest man in the world?
Usain Bolt and parents
The Bolt family has been based in Trelawney, where dad Wellesley still works in the local shop, for more than half a century and the parish’s most famous son is always welcomed on his return.
Best friend Nugent Walker says Bolt “has never forgotten where he comes from” with the star’s foundation providing a bus and computers for his old school, while also paying to rebuild a health centre in the village of Sherwood Content.
“Jamaica has kept him very grounded,” he added in the Telegraph. “People see the very confident athlete on the track and some people might misunderstand that. But he wants to be the best person he can.
“His parents instilled the key values: respecting people, caring for people, he’s kind to a fault – too kind some might say.
“I don’t think he realises he’s a celebrity. One time we were staying in France and he came down to the lobby and there were all these people outside, and he said to the bellman, who are they waiting for? The bellman said, they’re waiting for you.”
Mum Jennifer hopes he chooses to spend plenty of time with the family once he hangs up his spikes, and that retirement will bring a little less attention.
“He will be able to move around as he wants,” said Jennifer. “People always want to get close to him, not to hurt him, but just get close to him.”
Jennifer insists Usain is still the same character as the one who made his junior World Championships debut in 2002 – and still listens to his parents
But Wellesley, who takes credit for his son’s dance moves, says success has made the sprinter “more of an entertainer”.
With that in mind, Jennifer thinks an ambassadorial role is in the offing.
“I would like him to be an ambassador to track and field because he brings fun to the sport,” she said. “After he leaves, you don’t know who will take over his role. Without him, it would be really boring.”
As for adding to the Bolt family? Mum and dad are confident they will be able to add the grandparent tag before long, but Bolt is keeping quiet on the identity of the woman he has been dating for the past two years.
“That’s why he wants to retire early,” said Wellesley. “Because he wants to put his family together.”