More important than public perception of his image is the question of motivation. Some may think that the rewards he’s already enjoyed could have lessened his drive for success on the track. But Bolt is playing the long game here, too. The business side means much more to him than simply securing his own future. Since hitting the big time he has continually put his hand in his pocket to help the inhabitants of Sherwood Content, the small village where he grew up. Electricity, a new sewage system, running water and a multi-purpose community centre are just a few of the improvements that have been made. And it’s not simply a case of the odd conscience-easing autograph on a cheque; there’s a good deal of personal involvement too, evidenced by his eagerness to discuss the pros and cons of various types of water pump systems.
Such projects are merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to charitable work. Though the demands on his time and wallet are inevitably heavy, Bolt is careful to ensure that every person who asks for help – even strangers who accost him in the street – are given the time to put across a sales pitch, and a surprising number walk away with an undertaking for investment.
Offering a helping hand
“I was always taught that the fortunate help the not-so-fortunate, and I had nothing when I was young so I know how these people live their lives,” he says. “Sometimes it’s hard to sort the ones who are just looking for easy money from the ones who need help either for themselves or others, but it’s worth the effort if you can make a difference.
“Plus, someone told me once that you should always listen to everyone who talks to you. The only time I didn’t do this was when I was late for a flight at Kingston airport. A lady called out for an autograph as I was running by but I couldn’t stop. She shouted something rude at me and I still feel bad about it as I don’t want to be someone who is not accessible to fans.”
That said, autograph hunters are rare in Jamaica. One of the main reasons Bolt has not moved abroad (his only concession being moving from the rural north-west to the capital city in the south) is the lack of celebrity culture in his home country. He walks the same streets, goes to the same bars and sits in the same cinemas as everyone else – and nobody cares. His personal life has been the subject of almost no attention, with a single grainy paparazzi shot recently of him kissing Slovakian fashion designer Belle Lubica generating next to no interest on the island. “If I lived in Europe, I’d shut the curtains, play Call of Duty on my Playstation 24/7 and never go out,” is his wry assessment. The clear picture here is of a superstar whose mercurial feet are still firmly planted on the ground. A man focused on what has made him famous, not fame itself.
So if it’s not a question of desire or focus, what went wrong in Daegu? And has it dented his self-belief, or is he confident he can put it right? “I was mad for quite a while,” he says. “But once I had worked out the reason why it happened I knew I would never make that mistake again, and so I have kind of reconciled the situation now.”
At the time, a conspiracy theory went round that Bolt’s training partner Blake, stationed in the adjacent lane, twitched a leg and set Bolt off early. Bolt believes the fault lies solely with himself however, claiming that the relief at recovering from an injury-plagued season just in time to hit peak form at the championships caused him to become overexcited and lose focus.
The need for speed
“I remember being in the holding pen before the final, asking the officials if we could please go out on to the track now,” he says. “And they kept saying, ‘No, no, no’. I just wanted to be out there running, I had too much energy. It is a lesson learned. I will know how to control any similar emotions from now on, so that will be my one and only false start.”
So if he survives the gun, what can the world expect from the fastest man alive this summer? “World records and gold medals. It’s as simple as that. Three golds [100m, 200m, 4x100m] is the bare minimum I expect of myself. I am training harder than I have before. As a sprinter I will hit my peak in two years at 27 – but there’s no Olympics in two years so this is my time now. I’m going to run 9.4 seconds for the 100m and under 19 seconds for the 200m. I’m going to amaze the world."
Why Jamaica, with its population of just 2m, dominates the world of sprinting
Work ethics and escape
“Despite the laid back reputation, the Jamaican ethic is to work hard every single day. It’s a poor country and the only way out of poverty is work. They want to emulate athletes - not just for the glory, but to make better lives for themselves because, for many, sport is their only route out. Everyone, from Asafa Powell to the 14-year-old school athlete, gives their all and the whole focus is on sprinting. You’ll hear kids talking about wanting to run a ‘bill’ – shortened from a ‘hundred-dollar bill’, meaning the 100m. The island is obsessed with running fast.” Ricky Simms, Bolt’s agent, and director of Pace Sports Management, which handles nine Jamaican sprinters
Keeping talent on the island
“We have created a culture of success over many years. The Champs (an annual all-island schools championship) is an example. It gets massive TV and radio coverage and public funding. Some of the money is used to train coaches, and many of our high-school coaches could coach elites internationally but they choose to stay and bring the young ones through. The talent pool benefits from that expertise. For example, Bolt’s coach Glen Mills also coaches youngsters. When our coaching wasn’t so good, athletes went abroad to train and ended up representing other countries. Just a few examples are Donovan Bailey (Canada), Sanya Richards (USA), Linford Christie (GB) and Ben Johnson (Canada).” Albert ‘Frano’ Francis, a key figure in Jamaican athletics, described by a JAAA official as ‘part wise man, part historian, part visionary, part Rasta, part runner’
The ‘Pressure Academy’
“Jamaican kids learn early to cope with pressure. Each weekend there are up to 300 school athletics meetings up and down the country with as many as a thousand 100m heats being run. Plus, the champs is so big that when it gets to finals day these youngsters run in front of 30,000 spectators and the international media filling." Grace Jackson, Vice President of the Jamaican Amateur Athletics Association. A former sprinter, Jackson won silver in the 200m at the 1988 Seoul Olympics