Ahead of August’s World Championships, Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest man, shows no signs of slowing down. He talks exclusively to RW’s Kerry McCarthy about staying off the rum, securing his legacy and the one issue he can’t stay laid-back about...
You’re 29 this year and you’ve been at the top a long time. Do you feel your age, and have you had to adapt?
Thanks for reminding me I’m getting old! But I’ll have you know that every three months I visit a doctor in Germany for a full body MOT and I’ve not failed one yet. I’m finding the training harder because my coach is pushing me more than ever. Normally we break in slowly at the start of the season and build up, but this year coach has started me off doing more reps than before, each one faster and with less rest in-between. He wants to shock my body into adapting quicker now that it’s a bit older. I have scoliosis [curvature of the spine] so I also have to make sure I do all my core strength work.
How did you cope with an injury-ravaged 2014, when you raced only twice?
I was lucky it happened in a relative down year. I’d have been more stressed if it had been an Olympic or World Champs year. I missed competing, but I just kept telling myself it would be a mistake to come back too early and that I should use the time to make myself stronger than ever. It helped that people were saying I was finished. It made me want to do my rehab properly so when I came back I could show everyone I’m still here and I’m still the best.
How can you ward off injury in future?
Me and my coach had a difference of opinion about this and, unsurprisingly, he won. I thought I needed to be gentle with myself and peak at the right time for important races, but he felt, as I’m getting older, that’s more risky, and that I should be in shape all the time.
How’s the diet these days?
I haven’t had KFC for about four months, which is killing me. I’ve tried to bribe my chef but not only is he not bribe-able, he chases me round the house and makes sure I eat what he’s cooked. He also lays out my vitamin pills and supplements in front of me so I can’t ‘forget’ to take them. I eat a lot more vegetables – and I hate them all. I used to eat them occasionally, but now with every meal I have a plate just for veg. But I can’t get away any more with just winging it. To perform how I want I have to be perfect in training – and eating right is a part of training – so down it goes. I’ve backed off hard liquor, too – rum and stuff – but I still drink Guinness, or a Heineken or two. A guy’s got to have something, right?
Are you still living in a lad-pad with your best friend, NJ?
Not any more. I’m close to having a girlfriend now, so I live responsibly by myself in Kingston.
How do your family handle your now-insane levels of fame?
Most of the time it doesn’t occur to them. The only time it hits home is if we’re out and people come running up to me in the street. That didn’t used to happen, but now even in Kingston I get that. But mostly when we’re together we have the same family dynamic. I’m not Usain Bolt, superstar; but Usain Bolt, their little boy. I go home and lie with my head in Mum’s lap, they send me to shop for groceries, things like that. Last time I was home my Mum clipped my toenails for me! You’re never too old or famous for that.
And how do you handle the limelight?
Mostly it’s fun. I’m not one of those people who hates the attention. My favourite thing about it is meeting people I regard as legends. I recently met Michael Jordan, which was amazing. For me it’s weird that guys like that even know who I am.
There must be downsides, though?
Getting asked ridiculous questions by reporters. At the Commonwealth Games last year I got asked all sorts, from if I would ever wear a kilt, to the outcome of the Scottish independence referendum. Everybody wants to know my every thought on everything, which can get tiring sometimes, but that’s the job.
Did you actually call the Commonwealth Games ‘a bit shit’?
What do you think? I wasn’t happy about that at the time, but afterwards I laughed about it with my agent, Ricky Simms. If I was going to say something like that, I wouldn’t use that phrase – it’s not a word Jamaicans use. I’d have said ‘crap’, but I didn’t say anything. I’m news and people try to make their name by linking mine with something negative. I can’t help that.
What do the next couple of years on the track hold for you?
I’ve got the World Championships in Beijing this August, then the Rio Olympics next year. I wanted to retire after that but my sponsors want me to carry on for one more year so I’ll keep going until the London World Championships in 2017, and then retire. The plan in that time is three golds in Beijing, three in Rio to make a triple triple, and then one in London, as I’ll only be doing the 100m. In short, I’m aiming for continued greatness...
What motivates you to keep pushing?
That’s what my coach has been trying to work out. In the past we’ve sometimes focused on the clock and getting records, other times it has been on medals. Now it’s all about securing my legacy. I’m already the greatest sprinter of all time, but if I continue to win golds, I could be the greatest athlete of all time. Someone may come along one day and break one of my records, but to beat my legacy they have to beat my whole body of work. So the more I can win, the greater that gets and the harder it will be to overshadow. That’s what’s getting me out of bed now.
I use fear of failure a lot – it’s a powerful tool. In the past I’d focus just on peaking for major championships, but if you do that too much then on your down times someone may pop up from nowhere and beat you. And being beaten takes some of the shine off your reputation. I’m proud never to have been beaten in a senior championship race since I first broke the 100m world record in May 2008.
Are you as hungry as you were?
It really is hard to keep focus with all this success, but for me the Olympics are an easy motivation. It’s the biggest show on earth and the sprint events are the biggest part of that show. The World Champs I tend to be more laid-back about, but this new way of looking at motivation will hopefully ensure I compete at my best throughout. I no longer think about what the fans want, or who is running what times and who I need to be on the lookout for. I just think about me, and doing my job. Legacy is the main word in my life now and that means if I’m five metres ahead with 10 to go I won’t be slowing down and beating my chest. I’ll be pushing to get the best time I can, every time.
Do you think anybody among your contemporaries can beat your times [9.58s for 100m, 19.19s for 200m]?
I don’t think so, but if they do, they’ll only do it once. Anybody can have a great race on one day and I don’t worry about that. To do what I’ve done and win multiple golds, back to back, at World Champs and the Olympics, that’s hard. If I ran 9.4 for the 100m, it wouldn’t be that I’d be most proud of when I retired, or any individual achievement. It would be having been unbeaten for all that time. That said, if I ran under 19 seconds for the 200m...man, I’d love that. I really want that and I think I can do it.
Do you think track and field has as big a problem with doping as everyone says?
It has a big problem, there’s no doubt about that, but the bans they say they are planning to put in place now are tougher and I totally agree with that. Four years will make anyone think twice.
What about your former friend Tyson Gay, who was caught in 2013 but given a reduced ban for cooperating with investigators?
I was really upset about that. He got a year just because he talked to the authorities about how it was done and who helped him. That sends the wrong message: ‘If you do it and get caught, just tell us all you know and we’ll lower your ban.’ It’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. The message should be: ‘If you cheat you’re going to be kicked out of the sport.’
Does the fact that sprinting is a particular doping hotbed worry you?
Every time we take a step forward at the moment we take several steps back. That’s why you have to drive fear into athletes, to make them think about the consequences of their actions. If they’re getting an easy penalty why would they care? WADA [World-Anti Doping Agency] needs to look into this more. Now there’s apparently going to be a four-year penalty for a first offence and that’s something I agree with.
What do you think about lining up against drugs cheats like Gay?
You can never be happy about that, but what are you going to do? When you line up you know they did it, but you don’t know who else is on the line who might also be doing it. It doesn’t provide extra motivation for me, as I always want to beat everyone anyway. But I’m not looking forward to competing against Tyson. It really bothers me. I’m not worried about him beating me, I think it’s because I respected him so much over the years. He was a competitor, kept me on my toes and he pushed me to always do my best. Then to find out that he was using drugs...it’s a bit like I think parents must feel when they have a kid who does something bad and lets them down. I feel like he let me down and he let the sport down.
And how do you deal with suspicions over you?
It doesn’t bother me at all. I know the truth. Plus I get tested a lot – probably more than any other sportsman on the planet. But I don’t mind – I can’t want a clean sport and then complain about getting tested. The testers can come as often as they want. I heard that WADA is thinking about introducing hair follicle testing soon and I think that’s a great idea.
Have you begun planning for retirement?
As everyone knows I always wanted to play for Man United but now that Sir Alex Ferguson is not manager any more the idea’s not as attractive to me. But I own a bar in Kingston – Usain Bolt’s Tracks & Records – and I have my own clothing brand, so there’ll be enough to keep me busy. What I do know for sure is I’ll move back to the countryside, where I’m from [Trelawny in northwest Jamaica]. I’m not a city kid and Kingston is too noisy for me. I’m looking into buying some land on a beach near my parents. I can sit and look out at the sea. Maybe there’ll be some kids too, I haven’t decided yet. I’d like to think I’d be a strict parent like my mum and dad were with me, but I’d probably spoil them rotten.