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

Chapter 16. Rocket to Russia … and Beyond

The adrenaline has kept me going throughout my career, I’m crazy for it. I’ve always loved speed, and even after my crash in ’09 I liked to go at it on the road sometimes. People often pressured me to slow down in my car. They said that I shouldn’t drive so fast. But every now and then I got an itch and something in my head said, ‘Yo, Usain, put your foot down.’ I felt chills as the speedometer went up.

It was the same on the track. Moving at pace has always been a buzz. Once Jamaica won gold in the 4x100 metres a few days after the 200 metres final in London 2012, with myself, Nesta Carter, Michael Frater and Blake, I gathered up another hat-trick of golds, plus a new world record. We smashed our relay time from the 2011 World Championships with a time of 36.84 seconds, and my night with the Swedish handball girls was forgotten. After all the rumours of wild nights and endless parties in the Olympic Village, it was time to enjoy my victory lap as one of the Games’ superstars.

It’s always good to finish a championship on a positive note. One of the worst things about being a 100 and 200 metres sprinter is that it’s a solo ride, and I’m a team player at heart – it’s probably why I loved cricket as a kid. Hooking up with the relay athletes was one of my favourite moments in any meet. There’s nothing better than hanging out and messing around with the guys. The rivalries we had at home went out of the window and we forgot about the clubs we raced with, whether we were Racers or MVP. Instead, the focus was on running fast and smoking the opposition.

Often we talked crap to the other athletes as we prepared ourselves; one of us might make jokes with the Trinidad and Tobago sprinters. I’d look across at my immediate rival in the adjacent lane and shout out, ‘Yo, you think you’re gonna beat me? Get serious.’ It was all joy, but our fast time in London came from a place of determination. At the start of the Games, one of the Jamaican coaches had told us: ‘You should really practise some more baton changes this year.’ So we pushed ourselves in training, making handover after handover. I guess the results spoke for themselves in the end.

Given all the hard work of 2012, I wanted to take home a souvenir from my last night in London, something to go along with all the golds. As I left the track on the night of the final, I called over to one of the race officials.

‘Hey, I’d like to take the baton,’ I said, waving it in the air. ‘That cool?’

The guy looked at me like I was crazy. He stormed over. ‘You can’t have that. We’ll need it,’ he said.

‘Why? The Olympics is over!’

‘It’s the rule!’ he snapped.

I couldn’t understand what he was saying.

‘What? What is it with the rules? I can’t keep it? Hear me out: the Games are over until Rio 2016. There are no more races. I want this baton to keep, so I can show it off to my friends. I want something different to remind me of winning at London 2012.’

Then the guy got wild. He started making threats. ‘You’re going to get disqualified if you don’t give me back the baton!’

I laughed. ‘OK, let’s not cause all this ruckus …’

That was it. I’d quit arguing. But just as I was about to hand over my prize, a crackling noise came through on the radio clipped to the official’s belt. A voice was yelling through the speaker. It sounded like someone very important.

‘What are you doing?’ it shouted. ‘Give it to him!’

All of a sudden, that official looked pretty sheepish. He nodded at me to keep the baton. Man, the rules are so weird sometimes.

I don’t know why I wanted the damn thing so much. Medals don’t normally mean anything to me. The prizes are just objects, while the achievements and records are etched into the history books forever. Nothing can rub them out. No one’s ever going to say, ‘Hmm, London 2012? Can’t remember what happened there …’

My indifference to the spoils is a good thing, because I don’t honestly know where my golds are. The last I heard they were stashed in a vault somewhere, which was probably arranged for my own good. One time in New York I briefly lost all three from Beijing after I’d put them in a bag in my hotel room. The bag was then stuffed into a closet and after a day or so of living out of a suitcase, everything got jumbled up in a pile of shoes and laundry. When the time came to check out, I couldn’t find my medals. There was a crazy panic, and for a while everybody freaked until the gold discs dropped to the floor with a thud as we turned everything upside down.

But who cares? My first move whenever I’m presented with another trophy is to hand the thing over to Ricky or NJ because I can’t be bothered with the responsibility of looking after it. All I need is the memory of my phenomenal track and field achievements, and I won’t be losing that any time soon.

***

The problem with winning so big in the past is that people act all disappointed whenever I fail to break a landmark time. They expect me to crush world records at every meet. At the start of 2013, I competed in a 150 metres street race on a track built specially into Copacabana Beach in Rio. The buzz was high. Crowds flocked in from all over the city to see the race, but because I didn’t break my own record of 14.35 seconds – a time I’d set in Manchester during 2009 – people seemed underwhelmed.

I’d got used to that attitude in Jamaica, where the fans expected me to dominate every race I competed in. But now that same expectation was coming at me from all over the world. Still, by the time I’d finished first in Rio, I’d already come to realise that winning was all I needed do in some races; I knew that putting any more pressure on myself – other than a desire to win – would only stress me out. Instead I stayed chilled. People always wanted me to run faster because I’d set such a high standard for myself, but my attitude was always, ‘Whatever’. I wasn’t going to let others put an extra strain on me. So I tried to remain focused at every meet because I knew what I could do when I really put my mind to it.

What I’d discovered in 2013 was that finding the motivation to win was a lot tougher than before, I think because I’d achieved a lot in my career. I’d broken down so many barriers, and just like my 2010 season, the desire to push myself harder wasn’t there, not after the glory of London. The worrying difference was that 2013 had been marked as a major year: the World Championships were being held in Moscow and I needed to step my game up. But getting started was hard, the training felt so tough, and when Justin Gatlin beat me over 100 metres in Rome, everyone went mad. Fans worried that I wouldn’t be in shape for Russia.

I was relaxed, though. I later won the 100 metres at the Anniversary Games in London’s Olympic Stadium at the end of July, where organisers paraded me around the track in a crazy contraption on wheels. It looked like a cross between a space rocket and a fighter plane, and as it cruised around the lanes I waved out to the crowd, soaking up the atmosphere. I knew I would find enough energy to beat the field in Moscow.

When the World Champs arrived a few weeks later, three big names were out. Yohan Blake was missing through injury, but scandal had also caused a drama in the sport. Both Asafa, who had failed to make the team anyway, and Tyson had returned adverse analytical findings (a positive drugs test) and were missing from the competition.* On paper, it was going to be an easy gold for me, not that I was taking anything for granted. I could still feel the pain of 2011.

Sure enough, I cruised through the heats. But on the night of the final the heavens opened, streaks of lightning shot across the sky and rain poured down. Man, it was wet! The conditions were as difficult as an athlete could expect, and water bounced off the track. Gatlin later claimed that he thought the race was going to be postponed – that’s how bad it was. I was cool, though. When the athletes warmed up on the start line and the announcer called out our names, I pretended to put up an umbrella in the downpour.

Forget the liquid sunshine. Let’s just see this through to the end.

Then I recalled something Coach had told me on the track a few days earlier.

‘Gatlin will get a faster start than you,’ he said, as we chilled after a session. ‘But remember, your early strides are hampered by your height because your centre of gravity is much higher than the average person’s. Coming from a crouch and moving into a running position is a big disadvantage for an athlete of your size, but your execution and performance is way above anything any person has ever done. You will be a champion again.’

Pow! The gun blew. I came out of the blocks, but my push was slow, real slow, though at least I hadn’t false started. I looked across the pack. Coach was right. Gatlin had got a better start than me, but I was in the thick of it. Still, my body felt tired.

Damn, I’m sore. My legs are drained. Where did all my power go?

I had run the semi-final only hours earlier and everything felt dead. But despite my horrible reaction, I came from the back of the pack, pushing past Gatlin before establishing a comfortable lead.

OK, forget the pain. Just drive through to the line now.

Every step hurt.

Man, this is tough. We don’t get weather like this in Jamaica …

My spikes cut the track as I raced through the rain and the wind. First place was taken with no real drama and I was a world champ once more. As I celebrated with the Jamaica fans in the bleachers, a line of lightning lit up the sky, all purple and yellow. It was like a sign from above. My time of 9.77 seconds marked a season’s best in awful conditions, and I was happy, but afterwards, some people were acting like I should have run a world-record time. Please! My legs were a little tight after the semi-finals earlier in the day; a time of 9.57 seconds or better was never going to happen, not in that weather. Anyway, 9.77 seconds in the pouring rain was good enough to win another major medal. A decade earlier, it would have been the fastest time on the planet.

It’s funny, people seem to forget minor details like that when they’re talking about my performances. Like Coach said, it’s my own fault for running so damn fast …

***

The scariest thing for me after Moscow 2013 has been planning my next move. What can I do next? Will I better myself? Can I continue winning? I know I’ve got another solid season in me, maybe two, but can I go all the way to the next Olympics in Rio? That’s the only thing that makes me sit and wonder because it’s a big challenge – the biggest yet, possibly. Two or three years feels like a long time in track and field because a lot can happen. It’s scary and exciting at the same time. I love competition, I thrive off it. Just the thought of trying to get to Brazil gives me a spark.

If there’s a possibility that I might make it, then I’m going to give it everything I’ve got. I’ve talked to Coach about our chances, and we’ve discussed the situation sensibly by looking at some of the other athletes around us. I’ll be turning 30 when Brazil comes around. Some guys in track and field have run times of 9.80, 9.90 seconds at that age. If I take care of my body and if I can push myself to the limits, then I don’t doubt my ability to make 9.60 seconds in 2016. The important thing for me is to land there and compete at a high level. At least then I’ll be able to say, ‘I attempted it, I got a silver, a bronze, whatever. I was in with a chance and I tried.’ Imagine if I managed to win gold, though. The parties in Rio would be off the scale.

I’ve realised that getting there might be hard work. When I see the young cats coming up around me, I know it could be tough in the trials, even harder than 2012. There are some quick kids in Jamaica right now, but I genuinely want those guys to be the strongest they can be. I want to compete against the best, like I always do. That way, if someone beats me, then at least I can say that I was defeated by The Real Deal. If someone takes my title I want it to be an athlete with serious game.

For now, I want to run as fast as I can and be the best in the world. When I finish with track and field I’ll change sports and move on. If I can’t race at the top level by 2016, then I want to turn my hand to another game – football, most probably, because I can play, and with enough effort I can get better. I might even get good enough to earn a pro contract. I know that sounds crazy, but the way I look at it is that a manager should take a chance on a player every now and then. I reckon I could add something special to a team in England.

I’ve watched some wingers in the Premier League and they’ve not been that great. I’ve cussed them because they haven’t been able to cross the ball with any accuracy. I can pick up a pass, take on a few players at speed and create a goal-scoring opportunity. I’m not saying I’m the next Cristiano Ronaldo, but I’m a speed guy with skill. Imagine what I could do with a lot of practice.

The thought of being a track and field coach doesn’t seem like too much fun, though. I couldn’t train another athlete, especially if they were someone like me. That would be some serious hell. Sure, if I could work with a kid like Blake, someone with dedication, someone who behaved themselves, then that would be fine. But I’d much rather inspire the younger generation from afar. To do that, I want to run faster for the next couple of years. I want to push the boundaries. Supposing I don’t make any quicker times in the 100, I would love to be able to run 18-something seconds in the 200, even if it was an 18.99 race. Forget making the next Olympics and the medals, breaking that time would be an ever bigger success. I’d love to crack it, knowing that people were sitting in their homes and losing their minds at my achievement.

To reach that landmark pace, I would need to have the perfect season, like the one I had in ’08. I think next year could be my shot at it, though the window of opportunity is getting smaller with every campaign. The older I get, the narrower that window becomes; the harder it is for me to reach peak fitness in time for a major race. But given what I’ve done in the past, I don’t think it’s totally out of reach in the next season or so. Seriously, who would be surprised if I did it? Who’s going to stop me from going faster? The only man who can bring an end to my status as a star of track and field in the next couple of years is me, and I’m a phenomenon, a serious competitor – a legend for my generation.

Believe me, my time isn’t up just yet.

* It’s inappropriate to comment on the drug-testing situation with Asafa and Tyson. When this book was going to press, both cases were ongoing.