Faster than Lightning: My Autobiography - Usain Bolt (2013)
Chapter 14. This is My Time
Coach hated it when I discussed my injuries with the media. He told me that complaining only sharpened a reporter’s focus on the pain – mine too. That was a bad thing mentally, because I needed to be shutting the agony out, and talking about it only compounded the problem. Besides, it looked as if I was making excuses for myself when I cussed to the world about my aches and strains.
But, damn, as the 2012 preparations got under way, I was still picking up niggling injuries. My back was tight with the scoliosis, and both Achilles tendons were sore. The morning after a hard training session was tough: when I lifted myself out of bed in the mornings it sometimes felt as if my ligaments had been replaced by rusting barbed wire; at other times it felt like I was a wooden puppet, but the string holding me together was all knotted.
Eddie worked on my Achilles twice a day, every day, to free the ankle joints and loosen my calves before training; he massaged my back and spine, breaking away the inflammation and pressure with his fingers. I also went to Munich to see The Doc. The London 2012 Olympic Games were approaching and I couldn’t afford too many delays in my training schedule.
At first I worked hard, real hard, with every session. So hard that I often felt dizzy and sick after track work. Forcing a few fingers into my throat caused me to vomit, which eased my nausea, but puking didn’t stop the lactic acid from burning my legs, and The Moment of No Return killed me every day. There were times when I had to scream for Eddie to shake the pain from my legs. I’d fall to the track in agony after an intense running session, the muscles in my back twitching into a spasm, and as he loosened my taut fibres and tendons, I’d dream of a time when the pain might end for good.
‘Gonna relax a lot after track and field, Eddie,’ I’d joke. ‘Gonna play me some golf …’
Like most athletes I was in pain nearly all of the time, and every day I felt pain, after pain, after pain. Gym was pain, sprinting was pain, core work was pain. All of it was pain. The worst was the background work at the start of the season. Day in, day out, I had to run multiple reps of around 300 metres as fast as I could in order to build up my speed stamina and strength. I was allowed only a short rest between runs, so by the end of a training session I struggled to scrape myself up off the track. God, it was intense. As the legendary American sprinter Jesse Owens once said, ‘[It’s] a lifetime of training for just 10 seconds.’ But the pain had to be worth it in my mind. It had to be.
As work got under way, it wasn’t just the physical strain that was holding me back; my mind felt unprepared once more. South Korea had freaked me out, maybe more than I’d realised, and the false start constantly played on my thinking. I still worried that it might happen again in London and I obsessed about my reaction from the gun. Sharpening myself in the blocks became a new focus, an obsession. I told Coach that I wanted to fire off the start line like a bullet, but my mindset made him pissed.
‘Listen, forget about this start thing,’ he said one evening as we conversed about my work in the blocks. ‘You were never a good starter, you were an OK starter. In Beijing you started OK and you won, you even broke the world record. So quit stressing about your starts and move forward.’
It hardly helped. When the season began, I was inconsistent: a run of 9.82 seconds was enough to win the Jamaica Invitational, but then in May I recorded a lame 10.04 seconds in Ostrava, Czech Republic. My reaction at the gun was poor, but then everything in the race was poor. My legs felt dead and nothing about me was on point, but I wasn’t too worried because everyone had bad races – I was human, after all, and I knew I couldn’t set records in every meet.
But I could win most of them, and in the next two races, in Rome and Oslo, I beat Asafa with times of 9.76 and 9.79 seconds. This time, though, unlike our race in Stockholm four years previously, when I had gained a psychological edge, the result destabilised me. I got too comfortable. The idea that I was in perfect shape tricked me into dropping the intensity levels during training, and I enjoyed too many late nights, just as I had done before Osaka in 2007. Sure, I did all the drills Coach asked me to do on the track, I went to Spartan four days a week, but I rarely pushed myself past The Moment. I went through the motions and behaved as if 2012 was just a normal year when it was actually one of the biggest of my career. The reality that I could lose fitness as quickly as I’d gathered it didn’t drop with me, and my form, speed and strength all tailed away.
Not that I felt it at first, and that was some pretty bad news because the Olympic trials were looming and Jamaica’s qualifiers were hot – really hot. I was competing, along with Yohan Blake and Asafa, and the sprinters Nesta Carter and Michael Frater were also involved. It was a line-up of potential champions and every single one of us had the speed to win. Most people figured the Jamaica trials to be the hardest in the world, because our standards were seriously high, as tough as some championship finals, and only three athletes could qualify for London in each of the sprint events.
There was no room for complacency; the competition was set to be intense, but in the week leading up to the event, my hamstrings in both legs tightened up. Eddie worked around the clock to loosen my legs, though as I progressed through the heats and semi-finals in the Kingston National Stadium, something still wasn’t right. I didn’t feel like my normal self. My legs were a little wooden, my hamstrings were taut and I wasn’t hitting the track with my usual bounce.
‘Don’t stress, though,’ I thought, as I prepared for the final. ‘You’ll show up.’
My belief came from the arena; I had the buzz of a big crowd to feed off. All the tickets for trials had sold out and there was an energy around the National Stadium, even though I’d guessed that most of the fans would be cheering for Asafa rather than Blake or myself. Kingston was his town and they always backed him in the big events.
Asafa’s popularity was a sensation I’d first experienced in Jamaica a couple of years previously in a national champs. The reaction he’d received had upset me a little, because I’d been beating him for a while and I expected them to side with me, but when we lined up together, the crowd showed him all the love. I couldn’t work it out. I lost concentration on the race ahead. Instead, I tried to figure out what I’d done to upset the Jamaican public.
‘But I’ve been running so good,’ I thought. ‘Well, I thought I’d done good … When did Asafa beat me to an Olympic medal?’
That day, I’d forgotten my own rule (Do this for yourself first, Jamaica second), I got sidetracked and it very nearly cost me first place.
This time, at the trials, I was ready for Asafa’s hype and as I warmed up with Blake, I gave him a friendly warning.
‘Yo, listen, when you go out there, do not be freaked out by the love they have for Asafa here,’ I said. ‘This is his country. Remember that. No matter what happens, we’re just guests. No matter how bad Asafa runs, people always love him, so do not be tricked into thinking that these people are your fans.’
I was right, too. When we lined up at the start, the three of us were placed shoulder to shoulder; Asafa was in the middle. The announcer called my name and a cheer rolled around the bleachers. It was loud, but not crazy loud. Then Asafa was mentioned and the whole place erupted, louder than anything that had gone before. Blake leant back and caught my eye. The reality of Asafa’s popularity had hit him and we both smiled. It was a lesson learned.
All the mental focus in the world couldn’t have saved me from my bad form, though. As the athletes were called to their marks, Nesta Carter was on my inside.
Get set …
The gun went Pop! and he jumped a little on the line, rocking back before bursting forwards down field. That one movement was enough to unsettle me, and I was left dead last in the blocks. Even worse, my start was just as bad as the previous rounds. I had nothing in the way of power and with 50 metres gone, I could tell that winning the race was going to be a struggle. Blake had taken a strong lead.
‘F**k, I’m not gonna catch Blake. I’m not gonna catch Blake …’
I’d watched the kid become a powerful top-end runner over the past two years at Racers. He always came good during the last 30 metres of the 100 and 200, just like I did. If I ever let him get too far ahead at the gun in training, it was often difficult to catch him on the line. With 60 metres gone, I knew first place was out of sight; he had three, four metres on me and I would have struggled to make that up on a good day. But Asafa was another matter.
I’m not going to let Asafa beat me!
I pushed hard, straining every muscle in the last 20 metres to finish ahead of Asafa and take second place. When I looked to the clock, Blake had recorded his fastest ever time – 9.75 seconds – and the boy was hyped; it was the quickest race of the year so far. I realised then that my relaxed attitude to training had nearly cost me a place at London 2012. I was pissed.
‘I need to shape up and get my s**t together,’ I thought, as I drove home that evening. ‘There’s no way I’m gonna let Blake have the 200 as well. That’s my event.’
The following day, when the final arrived, I ran the corner hard, so hard, but still it wasn’t enough. Blake pulled away on the straight and as I approached the line, my speed just smoked away. My power had depleted, and no matter how hard I pounded the lane, no matter how much I hustled, my body would not respond. I was busted weak, and the extra strength that had made me a world record breaker in New York, Beijing and Berlin was gone.
As with the previous evening, I finished second, which was enough to qualify me for London, but it wasn’t nearly enough for me personally. I sat down on the track, vexed. I was dead on my feet, my hamstrings were sore, my legs were tired; I felt drained, but I still had enough strength to send a message to one of my rivals. As I picked myself up and jogged across the track, I caught Blake and grabbed him gently around the head. To the watching world it probably looked as if I was congratulating him. People might have thought I was saying something nice and friendly, like, ‘Well done, good race. I’m pleased for you.’
But forget that: I was upset and it was my moment to set the kid straight.
‘Yo, Blake, that will never happen again,’ I said. I was laughing, being friendly, but the intent was serious. ‘Never.’
I meant it, too.
In the days after my two second-place finishes the Jamaican people wrote me off. They said it was Blake’s moment in the Olympic limelight; he was the world champ after all. Apparently I was finished, and the hype that had trailed me following Beijing and Berlin had gone.
That was fine by me – at least I understood why it had happened. I’d screwed up my training; I’d convinced myself that there was enough power in my engine to win trials without gritting my teeth through The Moment, and the early season strength had gone. I was aware it had been my own fault and that I would be sharper for London, but that didn’t make the sensation of finishing second to Blake any easier to swallow.
I was angry with myself for days afterwards. I had always been a serious self-critic, and whenever I messed something up, whether it was a race or a football game, I’d call myself an idiot – or worse. I was forever cussing my mistakes, and a week or so later I watched a replay of the Jamaican trials at home. Really, I should have known better, but I couldn’t stop myself from picking at the wounds of defeat. I had to relive what had happened, to see the pain, to give myself another payload of whoop-ass.
I slumped on my sofa and watched the poor start in the 100 metres, with Nesta rocking back in the blocks. I caught the strain on my face as I tried to take Blake in the final 30 metres of the 200. It was horrible. But then, something happened, something that would start a fire in me. On the TV, Blake was crossing the line and running to the crowd. I hadn’t seen it happen on the night because I’d fallen to the track, drained, but what I missed gave me such a fury: the kid was running to the stands and celebrating in front of the bleachers. A finger was pressed to his lips.
It seemed to me like he was telling the rest of the field to keep quiet – me included.
I did a double take and replayed the clip. There it was again.
‘Hold up … what?!’ I thought. ‘Seriously? Oh come on, man, what’s going on here?’
I watched it again. And again. I couldn’t believe what I’d seen. I hadn’t been happy at losing to Blake anyway, but now there was some boastfulness in play and I became a little mad because in the two years in which he’d been competing at the top level, I’d given him nothing but support. When he first started training with us over at the Racers’ track, I had talked him up. In interviews I made a point of saying to journalists, ‘Hey, you want to look out for this kid. He’s going to be something special.’
Most of all, I considered him to be a friend and a team-mate; I’d tried to teach him the sport and everything that went with it. There were little tips at meets, like when I’d warned him not to get freaked out by Asafa’s popularity before the Jamaica Olympic trials. His nickname had even come from me. I told some reporters that he was a beast in training, and the tag had stuck.
The Beast: it was a cool title.
Now The Beast had come for me.
That was fine – I figured everyone should show confidence and want to be the best; an athlete had to talk himself up a little in public, so he could prove to the other competitors that he was made of tough stuff. But to do it in a way that looked disrespectful to me? That’s what I expected from the others.
I knew that Tyson Gay didn’t like being beaten by me, but he never dismissed me publicly. Asafa Powell had said stuff to the media about me too, but that was fine because he was in a different training camp to me. Who knew what his coach was asking him to say or do?
With Blake it was different. He was in the same group as me at home. He knew how hard I’d worked for the past couple of years, but he also knew how competitive I was. Everyone did. It was common knowledge that I hated losing. I’d recently told the guys at Racers Track Club about the time I’d played golf with NJ, and they had laughed hard when I explained how pissed I’d been at losing.*
Blake knew that about me, he might have even been there when I told the story. So, if I was the sort of person to get mad over a game of golf, a sport I hadn’t considered to have been my thing, how did he think I was going to react when I’d been beaten by him at the 200 – my event? I wasn’t exactly delighted. He also should have known that talking about me, or making out that I might be beatable, was like a red rag to a bull. It gave me a challenge. And once I had a challenge, like my first school race, like Keith Spence, like Tyson, I always stepped up.
Once I’d seen the replay of the race, a mood came down and I didn’t really talk to Blake at the track for a couple of days. I guess I was a little off, though I lightened up soon afterwards. I even congratulated him for his performance one evening. I knew that my thinking had to be one of acceptance, that we were friends in training, enemies in competition.
Thinking about it, I should have thanked him, because that one gesture had got my engine running. In an instant, I was psyched, revved up. Every step I made on the track after that evening on the sofa came from a place of pride, because I was training for Blake as well as the defence of my Olympic titles. I wanted to show up in London and prove to him and the world that I was a champion.
I didn’t let on to the kid about how I was feeling, I didn’t want him to sense my disappointment, but inside I knew it was time to go, and go hard. There was a score to be settled.
London 2012: talk about crazy.
From the minute I arrived in the English capital, the hype was big. A party vibe had taken over the entire city, and the streets were full of flags and colour. Everywhere I turned there were billboards and posters hyping up the Games, and my face was on nearly all of them. A graffiti artist had even sprayed a picture of me on the side of a building in the East End of the city – it looked pretty cool.
The disappointing thing for me was, I was seeing all this stuff second-hand on the internet because there was no way I could walk around the streets to catch the sights. Unlike Beijing, there wasn’t a moment of calm before the storm, and from the minute I landed, the Olympic Village became my home, where I had to stay out of view, away from autograph hunters and fans. That was tough. There was a shopping mall by the Olympic Park, and my friends were always calling up to say how ram-packed it had been with pretty girls.
I didn’t need the distractions, though. It had taken four years for me to get to a point in my life where I could go bigger than any other athlete. After Beijing, so many people had called me an icon, a sporting phenomenon for the generation, like Muhammad Ali, Pele and Jesse Owens before me. But I hadn’t seen it that way. I thought of myself as being like every other Olympic champion, and there were plenty of those athletes around. Yeah, I’d won three gold medals last time, and that was pretty impressive by anyone’s standards, but to set myself apart I’d have to do it twice. If I could repeat my achievements in London, then it would be huge.
Truth was, I was 25 years of age and I figured London to be my best shot at achieving legend status. Rio was another four years away, and a lot could happen in that time. I would be 29 in 2016, and while it is still possible to win three gold medals, it would be a much tougher ask. So I was serious, focused as hell. I told my friends, ‘Yo, forget talking to me about the girls, I’ve got work to do.’
The big gossip on the media’s mind was just as one-tracked. British journalists could be pretty wild, and there was a newspaper story that 150,000 condoms had been distributed to the Olympic Village. Apparently every athlete in the games had been given 15 to help them through the event – not that I saw any. Then a goalkeeper from the American women’s football team heaped gasoline on the fire by telling reporters that she’d seen couples getting wild on the grass verges in the athletes’ housing area.
It all sounded pretty insane to the outside world, like some crazy orgy was going on behind closed doors, but I didn’t see any of the action in the first week or so. None of the Jamaican team did (or so they told me), but that didn’t stop the gossiping. I guess it came from the much-discussed myth about Olympic athletes: that we’re all over each other from the minute our planes touch down in an Olympic city. The thinking goes that because we’re physically primed and our testosterone levels are through the roof, we’re unable to control our urges.
Maybe that’s how it worked for the guys who medalled on the first day, the dudes in archery or shooting who finished their work early, but for track and field competitors the action wasn’t set to start until the second week of the Games, and after that we competed pretty much every day. Fooling around with the opposite sex was the last thing on my mind, at least until my races had finished.
That didn’t stop the talking, though, and shortly after arriving in London I went to a press conference with Asafa. An interviewer asked us about the contraception story. We both looked at one another and laughed. Neither of us knew what the hell he was talking about.
‘I’ve never seen a condom in an Olympic village,’ I said. ‘Straight up. Never.’
I was confused. As we rode back to the Jamaican house in an official car, Asafa and me tried to work out where the story had come from.
‘Where are they giving out these things?’ I said.
‘Who gets them, though? They’re not giving them to us. Maybe they give them to the federation and the federation doesn’t want to encourage any of the athletes by handing them out?’
That wasn’t to say we lived like monks. Once the days had ticked down, I saw a few Jamaican athletes enjoying themselves. Their events had been wrapped up, so they were entitled to hit London at night for a party. Whenever I saw them the following morning, they always looked rough-assed. They were messed up, and their eyes were bloodshot. At first I’d laugh at them. Then I’d think, ‘Oh man, I’ve got the 100 to do, the 200, the 4x100 … I’ll never get to play. I gotta go to work.’
The work was fun, though. The weather was cool, the stadium looked wonderful, and as soon as I stepped on to the track for the first heat of the 100 metres, everyone in the stands went mad. It gave me chills. The further I walked out into the track, the louder the noise got, and the louder it got, the better it was for me. I felt more pumped with every step.
The Olympic Stadium was even overflowing on the first morning of heats and the London crowds were there from the minute the gates opened for business. Everyone in the nation had gone wild for the event. The atmosphere was huge and I’d never felt an energy like it before – not even at Athens or Beijing. I looked around, taking it all in, thinking, ‘Why are there so many people here?’ Usually morning sessions were half empty at best, even for a major champs. There was always one stacked section, while the rest of the arena stood empty.
The Olympic Stadium in London was different. It heaved with fans and there were plenty of Jamaicans in town. London had always been popular with Caribbean people and a lot of them had come to the arena for a party. There was plenty of cheering for our athletes, which only added to my energy, but it brought a lot of pressure, too. Because of Jamaica’s Olympic success in 2008, people had been talking us up as favourites in the sprint events. There was some serious expectation all of a sudden, and the Jamaican people demanded a repeat of the gold medals won in Beijing by myself, Shelly-Ann Fraser (women’s 100 metres), Melaine Walker (women’s 400 metre hurdles) and Veronica Campbell-Brown (women’s 200 metres), not to mention the 4x100 metre men’s relay team.
The hype was big all over, though, and everybody wanted to know why our small island in the Caribbean had produced so many top-class sprinters. In newspaper articles and TV documentaries, a whole range of theories got bounced around. Some people, including Pops, claimed that it was our yams – the starchy vegetable that made up part of the traditional Jamaican diet. Others put it down to the fact that Jamaican sprinters often started out by training on grass tracks, like I had at school. The surface improved our technique and there was a feeling that an athlete who could run fast on turf could run fast anywhere.
Michael Johnson had made a TV documentary in which he suggested that our success, and the success of a number of US athletes, may have come about because we were descendants of West African slaves. Apparently, back in the day, those guys had suffered a rigorous selection process before being transported to America and the Caribbean. Only the strongest were picked for the journey and, of those, only the toughest made it to Jamaica, the furthest point on the slave trail. The voyage was so damn tough that it killed a lot of them.
Johnson believed that the ‘slave gene’ had been passed down to track and field stars like himself – plus me, Blake and the others – which was what gave us such a physical advantage over our rivals. We were naturally stronger, fitter and faster. But I had another theory. I believed that the main reason why Jamaica had produced so many elite sprinters was because of one thing only: Champs.
At that time, Jamaicans viewed track and field in the same way that Brazilians viewed football – they were psyched about it. Everywhere in Brazil, kids kicked balls around: in the streets, on the grass, even at the beach, where they’d made sandy football pitches on the Copacabana and played under floodlights. It was only natural that they should produce a lot of serious players like Neymar, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho. In Jamaica, though, every young person was focused on track and field, and Champs had become the pinnacle for any junior athlete with ambition.
It wasn’t just the kids from Kingston and the larger towns that were making it big in the sport. There were athletes from deep rural areas showing up too, just like I’d done at the 2001 meet, and I was hearing from Coach that the national trainers had been spoilt for choice at recent events. They had turned up at the National Stadium in Kingston and picked the best talent on display like they were thoroughbred racehorses.
‘Oh, that kid has potential,’ they’d say about one 200 metre champ. Or, ‘That one’s in his last year – he won’t get any faster.’
A younger boy who finished fourth in his event might have a greater talent than the slightly older champ, and so a coach would take him under his wing and mould him into an Olympic star-in-waiting.
I knew where Jamaica’s power was coming from, and if those kids at Champs followed the right path, then the 2016 Olympic trials were going to be a damn sight tougher than the ones I’d just experienced. My defeat by Blake had already proved they were an event as intense as any other. It looked to me like Jamaica’s passion for track and field was going to crank the national standard up a notch or two, because some of those up-and-coming kids were seriously strong.
They had confidence, too. I remember one schoolboy came down to the track a few months before the London Games. He was a 200 sprinter with game, but he was talking all kinds of crap about how he was going to break my Champs record that year. I looked at him and tutted.
‘For real, now?’ I said. ‘You know what? Go and break the 200 metre junior world record at the World Juniors first and then come talk to me.’
That boy missed out by 200th of a second at Champs, and when he came back to the track a week later, he looked all embarrassed. I walked past him with Blake, deliberately talking loudly so he could catch my every word.
‘These young-assed kids, they talk every day about how they’re gonna break my records and how they’re gonna beat me and all kinds of crap. They should know better by now.’
He stayed silent, shaking his head. Coach leant into him.
‘I told you not to come up here,’ he said. ‘They’re just going to tear you to pieces for running your mouth off.’
I was only messing with him, but I was trying to teach him a lesson too, because an athlete couldn’t just aim for the number one guy when they’re that young. Instead, he or she had to chop their way upwards. But the kids didn’t realise that at the beginning. Instead, they looked to me first and thought, ‘I’m gonna beat Usain Bolt.’ They didn’t understand that first they had to beat Tyson, Asafa, Blake and Wallace Spearmon. Then maybe they could come for me afterwards.
I told the kids, ‘Yo, it’s a long line. Go for them first. You’re not going to go right to the top and threaten me.’
With Champs turning over so many athletes, there was every chance a contender might come at me later down the line, but that was years away. For now, London 2012 was my time, and Jamaica’s also.
If there was one man I was looking forward to racing in the heats of the 100 metres it was Justin Gatlin. The US sprinter had been busted in 2006 for returning a doping test with high levels of testosterone, and he’d served a four-year ban, but that wasn’t the cause of my annoyance.† I wanted to beat him because Gatlin liked to talk before races, and he loved to intimidate the other sprinters in the blocks, which seemed a little silly to me.
I had seen it happen during a race in Doha that year. Everybody knew he was hyped about his second shot at the big time and that he had wanted to make an impression, but Asafa was the only Jamaican lining up against him that day, and the pressure not to lose was big. I’d even warned him, ‘Yo, Asafa. You can’t let him win. There’s no way he’s supposed to come back after so many years of not competing and beat you.’
When the pair of them got to the start line, Gatlin did his thing. Before races, he rolled a bit like that other American sprinter, Maurice Greene – a top dog back in the day. Maurice was the 100 metres Olympic gold medallist from the 2000 Sydney Games, and a former world record holder with a time of 9.79 seconds. He was also an intense guy. He used to pull faces and stare people down in the call room, which must have been scary because he was a big guy, seriously muscular. He knew that if another competitor was intimidated by his showmanship then he couldn’t focus on the race ahead, which gave Maurice the upper hand.
Times had changed since then, and there was a real respect among the athletes when I began as a professional, but Gatlin wasn’t playing nice. He thought he was in a boxing match, he thought he could roll like Maurice. In Doha, he eyeballed Asafa, and Asafa seemed to fade. Gatlin took him at the line and, man, I was pissed. As he stole first place, he raced down the track and pulled a gun salute, firing imaginary six-shooters into the air. His showmanship didn’t end there, though, and in the press conference afterwards he started talking crap to the media.
‘That’s one down,’ he said. ‘Two to go.’
He was referring to the Jamaican sprinters. Blake and me were apparently his next targets.
‘Oh my God,’ I thought. ‘That’s embarrassing …’
As I watched the scene unfolding on TV, I wanted to grab Asafa and squeeze his neck; nobody felt good about the result. I was pissed, Blake was pissed, and at training the following day, we both asked the same question: ‘How had Asafa let that guy think he was so good?’
But then Gatlin had already tried to pull the same stunt on me when we met in the IAAF Zagreb World Challenge. I think he figured he could scare me in the same way he’d scared Asafa, because as we stretched and did our stride-outs from the blocks, he looked across at me, stared me down and spat in my lane. The saliva flew from his mouth, almost in slow motion, and landed on the track in front of me. I couldn’t believe it, I laughed my ass off – it was too funny.
‘What?’ I thought. ‘For real? You think that’s going to intimidate me? Spitting in my lane? Please.’
I knew it was going to take a lot to get me angry, mainly because of the way Pops had rolled with discipline when I was a kid, but also because I wasn’t freaked or bothered by someone like Gatlin. He wasn’t going to scratch the surface; he wasn’t a threat to me, more a nuisance. Also a person had to do something really bad to get me cross, and I rarely lost my temper, because manners were important. Still, the fact that I’d stayed calm in the face of all that provocation must have upset Gatlin, because he fired another volley of spit my way.
The second attack focused my mind even more. My brain quickly did some maths: ‘Now, he’s running 10.10 seconds max this year,’ I thought. ‘I’m running 9.60, and he thinks I’m gonna be scared because he’s spitting in my lane? Wow, he must be the dumbest kid in the world.’
Right then, I knew I wasn’t going to lose. The only questions bouncing through my mind were, ‘How fast am I going to run? And how much am I going to win this race by?’
The next time I caught Gatlin’s eye was when the race was over. I’d crossed the line in first place and, as I looked back, I could see him five metres behind. There was nothing more to say; the spitting and the staring down were done. I’d dished out a little bit of whoop-ass, Pops-style. Still, that didn’t stop the hype and, shortly before London 2012, Gatlin started talking to reporters again.
‘[People] have watched The Bolt Show for a couple of years and they want to see someone else in the mix as well. I’m glad to come up and step up and take charge with that.’
I guess maybe I’d looked off form to him, especially after the Jamaica trials and Ostrava. The thing with Gatlin was that he was a bit like me, he was crazy competitive. Well, that’s what Coach thought anyway. ‘You are the two people that step up with it comes to The Big Occasion,’ he said.
Whatever. To me, Gatlin was an inconvenience before the Olympics and I was going to beat him.
The main thing for me was that I felt strong in the heats. I could push myself without fear of injury in every race and I was sharp for the first 60 metres. After that I’d shut the competition off without too much trouble in the 100, and it was the same in the 200. More importantly, I’d also stopped stressing about my starts. My confidence was through the roof.
Blake’s confidence was also high, maybe too high. On the first day of heats I’d cruised through a qualifier for the 100 metres. A few minutes earlier Blake had won his race, too, and as I walked into the stadium I could see him in the crowd ahead of me. Journalists and broadcasters had gathered around him in the mixed zone, an area where the press were allowed to put questions to the athletes. They were coming for me, too. Microphones and cameras pointed from all corners.
As I wandered along the line of interviewers, chatting, word of Blake’s self-belief started coming down the line. He was a few metres away, speaking to some writers, but he was saying way too much.
A tape recorder got pushed into my face. ‘Usain, Yohan just said that he had been nervous for the 100 metres heats,’ shouted a journalist. ‘But he thinks it’ll be a different matter in the 200.’
Oh really? That sounded like a challenge to me, like he was saying he was going to win the 200 metres final. I didn’t think too much of it, though. I figured Blake might have been misquoted, so I left it at that. I also knew that he was confident and because of his age he didn’t always put that confidence across very well. But I heard it again. And again.
Then somebody spelt it out to me in plain English: ‘He said you’re not going to win the 200 – he is.’
I smiled to myself. ‘Why do people keep doing this?’ I thought. ‘Why do people keep underestimating me like I’m just another athlete, like I’m a nobody? I give everyone else respect. But am I the only one who gives respect here? First Gatlin, and now this? It’s going from bad to worse …’
I decided to make a stand – I called Blake out. An Olympic volunteer was standing behind me holding a microphone, which I knew was connected to a set of loudspeakers. There was always one lying around at press events. The organisers used them to chat to the athletes and media representatives as a group. Spotting my chance, I made a grab for the mic.
‘Yo, Yohan Blake,’ I said, my voice booming around the mixed zone.
He turned around, and I stared him in the eyes and laughed.
‘Yohan Blake,’ I repeated. ‘You will not beat me in the 200 metres.’
He smiled nervously. He could tell that I was slightly upset, despite the smiles. I didn’t want to argue with Blake, because he was a team-mate, and a nice guy, so I kept it friendly. I hated the idea of causing problems with fellow Jamaicans, least of all him, but my resolve had toughened right then.
OK, whatever, Blake. I’m going to beat you …
* It had been pretty funny, though. I hadn’t been convinced that taking up a sport like golf was a good idea at first, because I didn’t do anything unless I was going to win, and I couldn’t see myself as the next Tiger Woods. Anyway, I’d ignored my better judgement and agreed to play at a fancy Jamaican course. NJ said it would be ‘fun’, plus I had a lot of fancy equipment to try out, so I walked on to the first tee looking like Rory McIlroy, but without the curly hair – I had my golf shoes on, a smart polo shirt, tailored shorts, the clubs, the bag, the trolley. I even had a golf glove. I looked like a pro. Then I scared the parrots away by driving a ball straight into the woods.
‘What the hell is this?’ I thought. ‘That wasn’t supposed to happen!’
I picked another ball from my bag and stepped back on to the tee, though this time I fired my shot into a pond on the other side of the fairway. That I really couldn’t understand because I’d taken the liberty of visiting a driving range in the morning to warm up. There, I’d hit straight drive after straight drive. But the minute I started playing for serious, everything fell apart. There was no ‘fun’. I lost seven balls in the first half-hour, and after the fifth hole I figured, ‘To hell with this, I’m going home.’ I walked off the course and slammed those expensive clubs into the boot of my car. They haven’t been used since.
† I had no personal issue with Gatlin’s return to the sport. When he came back from his four-year ban, I didn’t cuss. If the IAAF felt it was OK for him to race again, then who was I to complain? He’d served his time and I just wanted to work my hardest so I could beat him. I was good to run against anybody, I was confident in myself.
Friends always said to me, ‘What if somebody had beaten you and they were on drugs?’
My response was always to say that I didn’t care. If I lost to someone, whatever – I’d work harder to beat them the next next time around. But if that person had doped, then he would know the truth deep down – Usain’s better than me. That’s the way I looked at things. I was happy, running free with a good, clean conscience. But if I had been him, I wouldn’t have done so much talking.