Faster than Lightning: My Autobiography - Usain Bolt (2013)

Chapter 1. I Was Put on This Earth to Run

Highway 2000, Vineyard Toll, Jamaica, 29 April 2009

Man, I gripped that steering wheel hard as the BMW M3 Coupe flipped once, twice, three times; the roof of the car bounced off the wet road and into the ditch. My windscreen smashed, an airbag popped. Bang! The bonnet crumpled as it hit the ground with a crunch.

Everything was still as I came around to what had happened. There was a weird quiet, like the tense, anxious seconds that always took place on a start line before any major championship race. Sssshhhhh! The silence was broken only by the hammering rain outside and the tick-tick-ticking of an indicator light. It was probably the only thing still working. My car was twisted up in a ditch and smoke was pouring out of the engine.

Stress can do crazy-assed things to the mind. I knew something wasn’t right, but it took a second or two for me to realise that I was upside down and my seat belt was the only thing holding me in place. It was such a weird sensation, checking for injuries above my head, in my legs, my feet. Thankfully, I couldn’t feel any pain as I stretched and gently tested the muscles from my toes down.

‘Yo, I’m all right,’ I thought. ‘Me all right …

In a split second, the accident flashed through my mind and, oh God, it was bad. I’d been driving through the countryside with two girls, friends of mine from Kingston. Manchester United were playing a Champions League semi-final later that day and I was so desperate to catch the game on TV that as we hit the bumpy, country roads near Trelawny, my home parish in the north-west corner of Jamaica, my mind was only on the kick-off. Initially I took a few risks. At times, I pressed too hard on the accelerator and once we had a close shave with an oncoming car. It had just overtaken a van, and as it swerved around, the driver missed us by a couple of feet on the other side.

I looked across at the girl in the passenger seat. She was nearly asleep.

‘How can you relax on roads like this?’ I thought.

Noticing her seat belt was unclipped, I nudged her awake. ‘Look, if you’re going to chill, at least lock up,’ I said. ‘Otherwise if I have to break hard you’re gonna come forward.’

We came off the country tracks and hit Highway 2000 on the west side of Kingston. Jamaica’s roads were smoother there and I was enjoying the heavy purr of the engine and the surge of energy that pumped through my wheels when, out of nowhere, a flash of lightning flickered overhead. There was a clap of loud thunder. We had collided with a tropical storm and it was big. Whoosh! Rain suddenly crashed down and pounded the glass, so I flipped on the windscreen wipers and brushed the brakes, feeling the speed ease off slightly. My tyres hissed through a lake of water on the road.

Whenever it rained I often made a point of dropping gears for safety. The car had been given to me by a sponsor for winning three Olympic gold medals in the 2008 Olympics, and I’d recently visited a drivers’ school at the famous Nürburgring track in Germany to learn how to handle its powerful engine. I knew that on a slick surface, if I moved down a gear, the compression of the car would reduce my speed naturally. But pumping the brakes hard would cause the wheels to lock, and that might send me into a spin. I quickly changed down, moving my clutch foot to one side.

I was barefoot – I preferred to drive that way – and the car’s traction control was positioned next to my leg, but a funny thing had happened a few days earlier: while moving around in my seat, I’d accidentally knocked the button and the tyres had lost a little grip on the tarmac. This time, while focusing on the rain, the highway ahead, I made the same mistake and, without realising it, I knocked the traction control to ‘OFF’. Well, that’s what I think happened, because what took place next was a freak accident that nearly wiped me out for good.

I felt the car shiver a little; the body seemed to tremble at 80 miles per hour.

‘Hmm, that doesn’t feel good,’ I thought. I glanced down and checked the speedometer. It’s not slowing quickly enough!

79 …

78 …

77 …

Adrenaline came in a rush, like something bad was about to happen. That shiver, the slight tremble of the car moments earlier, had been a sign my vehicle was out of control. I wasn’t driving, I was water-skiing.

76 …

75 …

74 …

Come down, yo!

A truck rushed towards me, spray firing up from its wheels like a dozen busted fire hydrants. It was moving fast and as its carriage passed us by, another vehicle followed in the slipstream. Bang! In a heartbeat, the back of my car came around and I was out of control, sliding across the tarmac like a hockey puck on ice. I couldn’t do crap. I felt my body slipping in the seat and g-force moving me sideways. The girl next to me had woken up. Her eyes were wide and she was screaming hard.

Aaaaaaaghhhhhh!

My car careered across the lanes and I could see we were running out of road, fast. It’s not a cool thing to watch the highway falling away, a ditch rushing into view ahead. I knew right then where our asses were going to end up. I put a hand to the roof to prepare myself for the impact, wrestling the steering wheel with the other, in a desperate attempt to regain control.

It’s coming, it’s coming … Oh God, is this it?

I was terrified the car might pop up and jump into a sideways roll.

‘Please don’t flip,’ I thought. ‘Man, please don’t flip.’

We flipped.

The world turned upside down. I felt like a piece of training kit on spin cycle in the washing machine, tumbling over and over. Trees, sky, road passed in the windscreen. Trees, sky, road. Trees, sky, road … We hit the ditch with a Smash! Everything lurched forward and suddenly I was upside down. The airbags blew, all sorts of crap rattled around in the car, keys, loose change, cell phones, and then a weird silence came down, a spooky calm where nothing stirred apart from the tick-tick-ticking of the car’s indicator switch and the pouring rain outside.

I was alive. We all were, just.

‘Yo, you’re in one piece,’ I thought as I busted the door open with a hard shove.

But only God knew how, or why.

***

Sometimes people talk about close calls and near-death incidents and how they can change a man’s way of thinking for ever. For me, my smash on Highway 2000 was that moment, and after the accident I couldn’t view life in the same way again. We had survived. But how? Staggering away from the wreck should have been impossible, especially after the car had flipped over three times.

Everybody knew that speed was my thing, but I hadn’t expected velocity and horse power to so nearly cut me short for ever, and in the hours after the crash, I experienced all the emotions usually suffered by a lucky driver in a car accident. There was guilt for my friends, who had suffered some bumps, bruises and whiplash. I felt stress, the shiver that came with realising that I’d cheated death as I replayed the disaster over and over in my head. I’d been driving fast, my wheels were out of control, and at 70 miles an hour I had flipped and bounced across the road and into a ditch.

Truth was, I should have been gone, a world phenomenon athlete cut down in his prime; a horrible newspaper headline for the world to read:

THE FASTEST MAN ON EARTH KILLED!

Learn the story of how an Olympic gold medallist and world record holder in the 100, 200 and 4x100 metres lived fast and died young!

The fact that I’d made it out alive was a miracle. I was fully functioning too, without a bruise or a mark on my entire body. Well, apart from some thorn cuts. Several long prickles had sliced open the flesh in my bare feet as I crawled from the wreckage, and the wounds were pretty deep. But those injuries felt like small change compared to what might have happened.

Seriously?’ I thought, when I was driven home from hospital later that day. ‘There wasn’t even a dent on me – how did that happen?’

A few weeks later, as the horror of what had happened sunk in, when I looked at the photo of my crumpled car online, something dropped with me. Something big. It was the realisation that my life had been saved by somebody else, and I didn’t mean the designer of my airbag, or the car’s seat belts. Instead, a higher power had kept me alive. God Almighty.

I took the accident to be a message from above, a sign that I’d been chosen to become The Fastest Man on Earth. My theory was that God needed me to be fit and well so I could follow the path He’d set me all those years ago when I first ran through the forest in Jamaica as a kid. I’d always believed that everything happened for a reason, because my mom had a faith in God. That faith had become more important to me as I’d got older, so in my mind the crash was a message, a warning. A sign that flashed in big, neon lights.

‘Yo, Bolt!’ it said. ‘I’ve given you a cool talent, what with this world-record breaking thing and all, and I’m going to look after you. But you need to take it seriously now. Drive careful. Check yourself.’

You know what? He had a good point. The Man Above had given me a gift and it was now down to me to make the most of it. My eyes had been opened, I had God in my corner, and He had put me on this earth to run – and faster than any athlete, ever.

Now that was pretty cool news.