At an early morning training session, the fastest man on the planet streaks down the home straight, muscles glistening in the Jamaican sun. He crosses the line 10m ahead of his training partners, growls with exhaustion and flops on to his back. As he lies there, eyes closed, face contorted and with sweat pooling on the track beneath his head, he is surrounded by camera crews and photographers.
A Japanese sound engineer lowers his boom to catch the sound of heavy breathing. The World and Olympic champion opens his eyes to find a big fluffy microphone about an inch from his face. His eyes pan to take in the barrage of clicking and flashing, and he scowls with irritation. Catching sight of a PR flunky looking on worriedly, he rearranges his features into a grin of acceptance and sits up to allow for better pictures.Usain Bolt is back on message.
From runner to world icon
The last time RW interviewed Usain Bolt, he had just broken the 100m world record for the first time (New York, May 2008), and did so as an unknown face outside of athletics. Fast forward three years - during which he has become triple Olympic champion, triple World champion, double world record holder (100m and 200m), and has broken sprint legend Michael Johnson's seemingly unbreakable 200m world record of 19.32 seconds along the way - and he is one of the most recognisable faces on the planet.
It's been a rise to fame that is almost as speedy as the man himself. So how has The Lightning Bolt's life changed in this time?
"It's more boring now," he says. Really?
"A lot more interviews, a lot more publicity, a lot of cameras following me around. I have to be good now. I've also had to get more serious about my training and my lifestyle. My coach has really clamped down on me."
What, so no more pints of Guinness and Red Bull? No more KFC? No more
late nights of partying?
"Nope - it sucks! I don't even remember the last time I ate KFC, I think it was some
time last year. I remember I went without it for a long time before that, and in the end I just couldn't take it any more. I was yearning so bad for some hot wings - so I just went down there one time late at night and got a box. I didn't tell Coach though, obviously!
"I haven't had Guinness for about three months. I party less. I'm allowed out sometimes but it's no alcohol and then back home early to bed. It's the way it has to be - but I don't like it."
Indeed. This is in sharp contrast to 2008 when Bolt would be out until the early hours two or three times a week, working the decks at his favourite clubs, causing his manager endless headaches with his refusal to take his vitamin supplements, and taking a lax approach to what, when and where he ate.
He now has a chef at his house and goes home to eat all his meals. His nutritional intake is closely monitored and he describes his diet with a curl of the lip as "heavy on the vegetables".
Outside of lifestyle changes, the two biggest downsides about Bolt's new fame are predictable: finding it difficult to make genuine new friends and shrugging off the hordes of old acquaintances (and strangers) asking for financial handouts.
So far, so downbeat. But what about the considerable upsides of being a global superstar? Under the gaze of two PR reps, his agent, a camera crew, a photographer and two huge minders, an official answer is dutifully trotted out about getting to travel the world, meeting his lovely fans, and seeing first-hand how he inspires others.
But when I remind him in a quiet moment later that in an interview last year, he said frankly that he loved getting free stuff, meeting his sporting idols and having girls throw themselves at him in clubs, he grins and admits, "Yeah, maybe all that too." A flash of the old Lightning Bolt.
Further revelations that he sometimes misses training, and also plays football with his friends on the sly against the express instructions of his coach, show that trying to knock an irrepressibly square peg into a round hole is clearly a long-term project.
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