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

Chapter 7. Discovering the Moment of No Return

They say all sprinters are the same. That we’re cats who chase girls, drive fast cars and play video games. We also love to sleep a lot, apparently. I’m not so sure the rule applied to everyone in the short races, but in my case that stereotype fitted pretty well, especially when it came to lazing around in bed.

I wasn’t one for early starts, even with a mellow Kingston morning coming over the Blue Mountains – the range of forest-covered peaks that filled the city skyline. If anything was going on before midday, maybe a work call or a meeting, then forget it. If somebody wanted to take my photograph for a magazine at sunrise, to hell with that. I hated getting up, and if ever I was forced to rise early for work I rolled around like a bear with a sore head for hours afterwards.

My lazy attitude caused Coach some serious worry throughout 2006, not that he showed it at first. If the previous season had been a balancing act between training hard and managing my back condition, then 2006 was a push for supreme fitness. And that meant pain, serious pain. Coach increased his core exercise programme, which caused more hurt in my stomach, spine and hamstrings. The track work hurt my legs and lungs, as always, but gym was the worst; it delivered an all-over, head-to-toe hurt in a new workout designed to increase the power in my sprint-making muscles, while more support for my spine was developed in the back areas. Extra strength meant extra speed on the corner of a 200 metres race, and it also gave me energy to burn in the final 30 metres.

The schedule I could handle, but then it was decided I should work out first thing in the morning, because Coach had realised that cardiovascular training stimulated me more effectively in the early evenings; my body reacted better to gym work before noon. Now that was some seriously bad news because it needed me to get up early, say ten o’clock, and I couldn’t cope with early mornings.

At first, as background training started, I stuck to his programme, but after a while I skipped a gym session here or there. Sometimes I didn’t put the right amount of effort in when I got to the Spartan Health Club, the training facility in New Kingston where I trained with all the Jamaican track and field stars. It became a nice place to hang out and chill with friends instead.

In a way, I was becoming a victim of my own success. Coach’s changes had enabled me to step up in some serious meets, and I wasn’t straining muscles in training like I used to; my back pain was under control. I was also winning more and more races in ’06, even though the standard of competition had improved considerably. Rather than focusing on relatively low-key events like the previous year’s Central American and Caribbean Championships, I was challenging America’s big guns more regularly – Tyson Gay, Wallace Spearmon and Xavier Carter – in Grand Prix meets in places like New York, London, Zurich, Lausanne (where I ran a personal best of 19.88 seconds) and Ostrava. At the end of the season I came third in the IAAF World Athletics Final and finished second to Wallace at the IAAF World Cup in Athens by running 19.96 seconds.

Those small successes should have given me the incentive to work harder, to push on, but instead I used them as a reason to slack off. I figured, ‘You know what? I’m doing good. I can get away with skipping the occasional gym session.’ Some mornings when I should have been training in Spartan, I stayed in bed instead.

The slip-ups, when they came, gave me away. Like in March, when I was competing at a meet in the National Stadium, Kingston. That night, I was due to run in the 4x400 metres relay against my old rival Keith Spence, and I felt confident of putting in a good race. But as I grabbed the baton and came up on Spence at the corner, I felt the same old grab of pain in the back of my thigh. Twang! A hamstring had snagged, and I was in some serious hurt. This time, I walked off the track in Kingston. I couldn’t bear to battle through the agony as I had done in Helsinki, maybe because the stakes weren’t as high – I don’t know. Clutching the back of my leg, I hobbled away for help.

I looked for Coach among the faces in the crowd, but as I got closer to the main stand there was a boo. Then another, and another. The noise was getting louder and louder with every step. By the time I’d reached the sidelines, everybody in the bleachers was cat-calling me. Man, they looked annoyed. Some people were even shouting, cussing, saying that I’d stopped on purpose because I knew I wasn’t going to win. Then they jeered me for limping away.

‘What the hell is this?’ I thought, feeling sick – seriously sick. ‘Where did this come from?’

My world crashed in, I couldn’t believe it was happening. I’d heard of people experiencing a nightmare where they had been sitting in a packed room of angry people, everyone hurling insults at them. I was suddenly living that horror for real, but on a much bigger scale. Honestly, I had never imagined a time when a Jamaican crowd – my own people, the same people that had cheered me on so loudly when I’d won the World Junior Championships in 2002 – would boo me as I came off the Kingston track.

Forget the pulled hamstring, this was pain on another level. I was only 19, and the criticism hit me hard. I’d always given the people of Jamaica my love whenever I raced. In Kingston, the fact that I’d genuinely injured myself made it a double whammy of crap luck, and I left the stadium in a pissed mood. The car journey home was horrible. By the time I’d got to the front door, I was thinking all kinds of garbage.

First of all I questioned my ability: ‘I’m not good enough for this sport …’

I questioned the Jamaican fans: ‘Wow, I got booed in front of my national crowd when I was giving it my best. I was actually running hard … Yo, maybe this is how it’s going to be from now on?’

Then it got worse: ‘Three years ago I started this life. Three years I’ve been injured. Is this really working? Should I really continue? All these things that I do, no matter how hard I try, this might not be for me. This track and field thing is tough …’

I knew I was thinking crazy, and I knew I wasn’t considering quitting, not seriously. But the next day I sat down with Coach. I told him I’d had some doubts about where my career was heading.

‘I don’t know what’s going on here,’ I said. ‘Why are they booing me?’

Coach laid it down. ‘You have to learn the way Jamaicans are, Usain,’ he said. ‘You have to figure them out. Listen, if you do good, you’re going to be cheered. If you do bad, they’re going to boo you. That’s Jamaica. You also have to understand that you’re doing this thing for yourself first and no one else. The country comes second. You can’t sit down and worry about what other people think. If you don’t understand that, then none of this makes sense.’

Coach knew all about the criticism because he was experiencing some heat of his own. The media were attacking him. They said I was squandering my talent under his care, and despite some of my successes in 2005, they claimed he wasn’t training me properly. Often, they were calling for a different coach to take me on, but they had no idea of our long-term plans or goals. Not that Coach cared. ‘Listen, if we make good results, it will be an indication to them that you and I are able to find water in a desert,’ he said.

I went home and thought long and hard about what Coach had said and what I was going to do. I knew he was right, that I would have to ignore all the criticism. I thought, ‘You know what? To hell with the fans, I’m going to do this and I’m going to do this for myself.’ I had another mantra for the start line: Don’t think about them. Just do.

Suddenly, track and field was about me first and the Jamaican fans second. It felt nice not to care any more.

***

There was more advice, lots more. If ever I skipped the track, Coach would come around to talk. If ever I went partying, Coach would come around to talk. If ever I missed gym or looked like I was losing my edge, Coach would come around to talk. Sometimes, he just came around to talk.

At the start of ’07, he told me to get a focus, an inspiration, something I could aim for whenever I trained, either in the gym or on the track.

‘You have to want something,’ he said. ‘You have to set yourself goals so you can push yourself harder. Desire is the key to success.’

It was smart advice. When I’d first started racing professionally, I’d wanted to earn enough cash so I could give my parents stuff. Mom didn’t have a washer and she hated doing the laundry by hand, so I wanted to buy her a brand new machine. Meanwhile, Pops would always moan about money, which pissed me off. One day, when he started grumbling about the bills, I even said to him, ‘I’m going to pay you back every dime you gave me as a kid!’ I figured that if I earned enough I could even buy him a new set of wheels.

I guess it’s easy to get wrapped up in the riches of sport – any sport. When I first went on to the pro circuit in ’04 and mixed with the other athletes, I learned about how much the top guys in Kingston were earning and it blew my mind. Like Asafa Powell, the 100 metres runner. That was the event where the prestige and the money lived. In those days athletes in the 100 were getting $16,000 for a win in the Golden League, the series of annual meets organised by the IAAF, and the top runners were paid to appear at meets, often as much as $40–50,000 a race. There were also some lucrative endorsement deals to be made if you were a champion sprinter.* But Asafa really became a global star when he broke the world record with a time of 9.77 seconds in ’05. Pow! Suddenly he was hot property and a big earner, as sports companies and drinks manufacturers wanted to sponsor him. Whenever I saw him hanging out around Kingston, or at race meets, he was always sitting in some fancy sports vehicle.

‘Hmm, I need some of that for myself,’ I thought.

For me, ’04 had been a bad start. Before the Olympics, there was a lot of interest in me. I was the reigning World Juniors and World Youth champ and I had smashed all kinds of records. Fans wanted to watch me race. I was considered hot property, especially in Jamaica, and people were willing to pay me to compete, but my injuries meant that I couldn’t pick up any appearance fees or competition winnings, and in my first year I was unable to exploit my financial potential.

Mr Peart had cut me a few deals off the track, which, looking back, were small time, but they were an indication of my commercial appeal at the time, even as a 17-year-old. I signed a sponsorship contract with a supermarket called Super Plus, and in return for fronting their stores I was given a certain amount of food every month. I then signed a modest deal with the sports company Puma which meant I received boxes of free trainers. I was pretty hyped about that. I even became an ambassador for a mobile-phone company called Digicel. I had cash in my bank account, but it wasn’t a lot at first, and when it was finished, that was it. I didn’t get huge amounts of money to burn and as soon as my pay cheque arrived, I’d go crazy and spend it all. Often I’d have to ask Mr Peart for some extra dollars to see me through to the last week of the month.

‘Too bad,’ he’d say whenever I explained my cash-flow issues. ‘You’ll have to save your dollars!’

I learned some pretty big lessons in that first year. I signed with an agent called Ricky Simms, from PACE Sports Management in London. Ricky had been selected to be my agent by Mr Peart because his company worked with a number of world record holders and Olympic champions. Straightaway we clicked. Ricky was an Irish guy who worked with his partner, Marion Steininger, and chatting to them was fun, easy. Like Coach, Ricky got me: he had once been a good middle-distance runner himself, so he understood the pressures of being an athlete, as well as the financial potential of success. When he flew to Kingston to meet me, Ricky explained how the business worked and how much money I could make – if I fulfilled my potential.

He told me that if I started running faster times, then my earnings would go up. I would get more in appearance fees and prize money for winning. If I got a gold medal here or a silver there, again my appearance money would increase. I only had to win one medal in a big championship, like the Olympics or a World Champs, for the cash to roll in from sponsors and other commercial opportunities. That would then lead to other deals, like TV adverts and public appearances. I got excited.

‘This is good stuff,’ I thought. ‘If I can keep fit, things might be good for me all of a sudden. I might make some money.’

In 2004, Ricky’s lesson was clear: to get more money, to buy cars like Asafa, I had to win some of the bigger races on the circuit. But to win the big races I had to overcome the likes of Shawn Crawford and Justin Gatlin in the 200 metres, and that was easier said than done. I hardly raced in 2004 and by 2005 I just wasn’t sure how to get the edge on the top guys.

That’s when Coach stepped up. By the middle of the ’05 season he spotted a flaw in my game that, if corrected, could push me into contention – serious contention.

‘Bolt, you keep looking around when you compete in meets,’ he said one afternoon at the track. ‘You don’t do it in training, but all through a race, you’re flapping your neck about, watching the other athletes. It’s costing you time. It cuts your forward momentum. If you were a horse, I’d put blinkers over your head to stop you from looking left then right as you get to the line. If you want to beat the others, just stare ahead …’

I listened hard, and I took the advice on board. When I next raced the 200 in the Reebok Grand Prix in June, I made a point of not looking for my competitors until I’d passed the 150 metre mark. Once I had glanced around, they were out of sight, way, way, way behind.

‘Oh, I see what’s happening here!’ I thought.

That one move had been enough to improve my performances in 2005, which gave me serious earning power. I was making more and more in appearance fees and win bonuses. It wasn’t long before I had pulled enough money to buy Mom her washing machine.

Throughout 2006 and the start of 2007, getting more cash became the focus – I wanted that car for Pops, I also dreamed of getting myself a sports vehicle for myself. At the time I drove a Honda, which I loved, but I wanted something with a bit more flair. I used that dream to push me through the pain of training, though I seemed to be more much focused on my future than some of the other guys working out of Spartan or Racers Track Club. I noticed that a lot of the athletes in Jamaica were satisfied with the small amounts they were making. Whenever we conversed, they said, ‘OK, I’ve won a few races, I’m good with what I’ve got.’ But I most definitely was not like that. I wanted to make the most of what I had as a pro. I wanted to maximise my potential and make some serious money. Every time I saw Ricky I would ask the same question: ‘Yo, explain to me how so-and-so gets so much?’

I reminded myself of my new focus every day. If there were times when I felt like slacking off, I said to myself, ‘What more do I want? What’s the thing I want the most?’ In my mind I pictured the car, the clothes, whatever it was I hoped to get, and I’d motivate myself. Step up, Bolt! Get training if you want to get it!

It was still hard, though. There were sessions when Coach would tell me to run more and more 300-metre sprints, even though I had been pounding the lanes all evening. My whole body was dead, I couldn’t get myself up off the track, and the more I moved, the more I burned and ached. All my muscles screamed, ‘Nah! I don’t want to do this!’ And that’s when I had to dig seriously deep to find my motivation.

Thankfully, Coach had taught me a way of embracing the pain. He called that overwhelming rush of hurt ‘The Moment of No Return’, a point of pure agony when the body told an athlete to quit, to rest, because the pain was so damn tough. It was a tipping point. He reckoned that if an athlete dropped in The Moment, then all the pain that went before it was pointless, the muscles wouldn’t increase their current strength. But if he could work through the pinch and run another two reps, maybe three, then the body would physically improve in that time, and that was when an athlete grew stronger.

I also learned how to run through any twinges or unusual flashes of hurt. Coach told me to run when my body suffered an unexpected rush of agony, like a burning nerve in my shoulder or a grinding around my kneecap. In those seconds of confusion I had to push on. By experiencing new sensations I would come to understand my body’s capacity to succeed in times of stress. Coach’s theory was pretty clear.

‘You never know, Bolt,’ he said. ‘You might feel a pain in the final of the Olympics and if you haven’t come to understand it in training, you might stop when the sensation is only temporary rather than debilitating. If you stop you’ll have lost your chance of an Olympic gold medal, maybe for ever. But if you’ve learned to run through the pain previously, you’ll understand it. That means you’ll always have a chance of glory.’

With every flash of hurt, I kept on running. With every training session The Moment of No Return became a painfully familiar sensation.

***

It’s funny how one race can change everything. In August 2007, when the World Championships in Osaka, Japan came around, I was strong, really strong. I’d burned through The Moment in training so many times that it damn well nearly killed me, and Coach’s back and core exercises were done through gritted teeth. Every. Single. Day. But the gym was another story. I went in spells and I hated it. Sometimes, when I did turn up, I’d only go through the motions.

The track work paid off, though. I’d moved up in the pro rankings after some good times during the early season. In June I took second place in the Reebok Grand Prix in New York. I could feel my technique improving with every meet and my personal bests were getting quicker. I figured that I could handle coming second or third in an event if it gave me a new personal best. As long as I was running faster and faster, I was pretty happy.

In July, I came second in Athletissima, the Super Grand Prix meet at the Stade Olympique in Lausanne in Switzerland, and first in London during the Norwich Union Grand Prix. I was certainly a big contender by the time Osaka came around, but I wasn’t the number one favourite because Tyson Gay was running hot, seriously hot. He had won the US trials with a 19.62 race, and everybody thought he had it nailed. That feeling was only strengthened before the 200 metres event got under way because he had defeated Asafa in the 100 metres final, which was a real shock to me, firstly because Asafa was the world record holder and the man and, secondly, because Tyson’s win suggested he was now a serious contender for the Olympics in Beijing the following year.

Still, I was feeling pretty good. Coach seemed hyped too, but as we prepared for the heats, he reminded me of my injury in Helsinki. He wanted me to relax in my early races.

‘Don’t push too hard, Bolt,’ he kept saying. ‘Don’t go out there and overdo it.’

He explained that I had to finish in the top two in the semi-finals in order to get a good lane for the final – one on the outside, rather than near to the curve. Once I’d secured my finishing position in each race, I could cruise. Coach didn’t want me to overstretch myself and strain another hamstring.

Bang! I took the first heat easy, chilling all the way to the line without any stress. One kid nearly broke his neck trying to beat me to first place, but there was enough in my tank to take second without needing to get into top gear. I won the second round and semi-final without exerting too much effort, beating Wallace in both heats. That result got me into lane five for the final, between Tyson and Wallace. It was business time.

As we lined up in the Nagai Stadium, I had one mindset: ‘Yo, I can do this!’ I was super-confident and the only real stress was my start. I knew a bad reaction at the gun would kill me against Tyson, because he was a strong competitor and one slip from me and he would finish off my challenge in a heartbeat, especially in a race as big as the World Championships final. When the stakes were high, the guy was ruthless. Tyson would have happily broken his own foot to get a gold medal.

Looking back, I don’t think he really imagined that I could beat him on the night of the final, not for one instant. In his mind Wallace was probably his biggest threat in the 200 metres. I guess the main clue that Tyson wasn’t worrying over me too much was the way in which we were still cool on the start line. Before races we’d speak, he’d say said hello whenever we passed, and he always laughed along whenever I made jokes. The truth was that Tyson never, ever conversed with guys he believed to be a challenge to his status.

That’s how he rolled. Anyone who watched track and field knew that Tyson was an intense guy. He stared down the lane before races like he wanted to kill the track; like he hated the track. He was wired, wound up tight, and that was his way of preparing. He wasn’t one for playing in front of the cameras. He didn’t fool around with the other guys in the call room, the area where the athletes gathered before races. So Tyson was easy to read in that way. In his mind, I wasn’t a threat, that’s why he was nice to me. But damn, I badly wanted to be his biggest problem.

Pop! The gun went and as I came out of the blocks I could tell that my start had been strong as I’d pulled up on Wallace after 50 metres. I glanced across. I couldn’t see Tyson, but I knew he was just behind me. I refocused on the lane ahead. I could hear his short, sharp breaths and the cracking of his spikes on the track. Clack! Clack! Clack! For the first 75 metres, that sharp, rapping metallic sound was right on my shoulder. It didn’t seem to be moving any closer.

‘Tyson’s not passing me,’ I thought. ‘He’s not passing me!’

I should have known better. At the top of the turn Tyson flew off like a missile. He was gone, miles ahead, shooting off into the distance and there was no stopping him. I could not believe it – he had taken four or five metres off me in the blink of an eye. I stared in disbelief: What the hell just happened? But in my mind I still believed I could catch him. I clenched my jaw and started pumping.

‘I’m gonna get there,’ I thought, as the gap closed and the line came into view. ‘I’m gonna get there!’

But I was wrong, my body didn’t have enough zest. My engines couldn’t match Tyson’s speed.

‘Nah, forget first place,’ I thought. ‘You got no more than this. You can’t take him.’

With 20 metres to go it was game over. Tyson took first place with a championship record of 19.76 seconds, but the silver was mine with a time of 19.91, ahead of Wallace, and I had my first medal in a major champs. Talk about making some big statements.

was able to step up in the biggest events. I was able to work hard and not pop muscles. I could win medals despite the scoliosis. And to hell with what everybody thought about me back home – I was on Tyson Gay’s tail for real.

***

There were questions too, frustrations. I dropped to the track afterwards, my head spinning. I wanted to take in what had just happened because I’d left everything out there, but I could not work out how Tyson had taken me at the corner. In a split second, several metres had changed hands and I’d been left behind.

When I got to the athletes’ village that night, everybody was psyched about my silver, and I was too, but I still stressed. What the hell? How had he beaten me? By 2 a.m., my head was going crazy, I couldn’t relax and I needed answers. I padded across the corridor to Coach’s room and knocked on his door. I’d disturbed him, his eyes were sleepy, but he knew straightaway that something was up.

‘Usain? What’s wrong?’

I poured it out.

‘How did he do it, Coach? I mean, seriously? To be behind me and then come off the corner that way – how? I really thought I had him out there. I thought I could do it.’

It was the middle of the night and most of the other athletes were asleep, but I was still psychologically pounding the lanes with my biggest rival. Coach already had his talk prepared. Maybe he’d had it planned for a while, I don’t know. It certainly felt that way.

‘It’s because you’re slacking off in the gym,’ he said. ‘You think you’re doing the work, but you’re not.’

I interrupted. ‘Coach, but I am …’

‘You are not!’ he said. ‘You’re doing part of the work and, yes, it feels tough, but you need to do it all. Get that fact into headquarters, because you have the speed but you need more strength.’

He then told me I had to push and work at Spartan more. I needed to get stronger. With more muscle, I could arrive at the straight in a 200 metres race with the strength to lift my knees higher. I’d gather more momentum that way. The difference between myself and Tyson, he explained, was that he had a reserve of power to draw on, but mine had faded away.

‘For real, Coach?’

‘For real, Usain.’

In that moment, the future seemed clear and I could feel my competitive streak rising up. I couldn’t stand being beaten by Tyson Gay, by anyone, not when I knew, deep down, that I carried the raw talent to be the best in the world. Sure, getting there was going to be tough and it needed me step up and work harder, but to hell with the pain, I wanted to be the best. I was ready for the effort, even in the damn gym.

I guess, after all of Coach’s talks, the penny had finally dropped. I wanted to run faster than everybody else, I wanted to be number one. But most of all, I wanted to be a champ in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. I’d found a new motivation to get me through The Moment, and it wasn’t a car for Pops or a fancy watch for me. As my head hit the pillow, I had only one thought on my mind.

‘Yo, Tyson Gay: you got lucky.

***

Here’s a story that proves just how tired I was at the end of 2007. During a late season meet in Zurich, the American 200 metres sprinter Xavier Carter took me with so much hype in a race that it pissed me off big, so big that I don’t think I’ve ever been that upset before or after an event.

Now, Xavier was a badass with a shady back story he could not shake off, no matter how hard he tried. His charge sheet carried an arrest for the possession of a concealed firearm. He’d picked up the nickname ‘X-Man’ and whenever he ran through the finishing line in first place, Xavier would always make the shape of a cross with his arms, which seemed funny to me at first, though that opinion didn’t last long.

Zurich took place shortly after the World Championships in Osaka, and I was feeling pretty psyched about the meet; I was ready to go again. Meanwhile, X-Man had missed Osaka because of an injury, so he wasn’t flashing on my radar. I hadn’t expected him to be a threat, but shortly before packing my bags for Switzerland, I received a warning from Wallace Spearmon.

‘Yo, Usain, don’t run this 200 metres,’ he said.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. ‘Wallace, what?’ I said. ‘You’re joking me.’

But Wallace was being straight. ‘For real, now. X-Man has been in Zurich for three weeks,’ he said. ‘He’s been training hard, just waiting to beat us. He’s been sending texts and threats saying all kinds of crap about how he’s going to kick my ass, yours too. He means business.’

Me and Wallace were tight, we had been since a 2006 meet at Crystal Palace, England, when I’d saved him from missing a race start. On that day I remember warming up on the track and looking around to see who was doing what. Wallace was an athlete that liked to be on the track early for his stride-outs and practice starts, but on that one occasion he was nowhere to be seen.

‘Where is that guy?’ I thought. ‘I know Wallace is around – he should be out here warming up.’

After 20 minutes or so of stretching I started to get a little concerned.

‘Nah, something’s wrong. He should be here.’

I picked up my kit and walked over to the sidelines. To my surprise, I saw Wallace stretched out on a bench. He had his cap pulled down over his face and he was sleeping away. I jogged over and started slapping him around the head.

‘Yo, Wallace, what are you doing?’ I shouted. ‘You gotta get up!’

He jumped off his bench. ‘What?! What’s going on?’ he mumbled, looking seriously sleepy.

‘It’s time to warm up!’ I shouted. ‘Come on, man, I’m already set to go.’

I knew I’d probably saved Wallace from an embarrassing showing on the track. Without a proper warm-up, it’s unlikely he would have covered himself in glory that night, and after my gesture we were cool together, probably because Tyson won that day while Wallace came in third and I was fourth. But this time the tables had been turned. By tipping me off about X-Man, Wallace had given me a wake-up call of his own. My biggest problem was that I wasn’t in the mood to hear it.

‘Nah, I’m a’ight,’ I said, as he stressed to me how pumped X-Man was. ‘I feel good, I’m in great shape …’

Wallace wasn’t convinced. ‘I’m not going to run, man. I just know something’s up. He’s been waiting since Osaka. You sure you want to go, dawg? You sure you’re not tired?’

I told him, ‘Yo, I am not tired.’

You’re tired,’ he said. ‘You just don’t feel it, the way your body’s drained.’

I wasn’t going to listen to him; X-Man didn’t faze me. Sure, he had beaten me earlier in the season with a ridiculous time of 19.63 seconds, the second quickest ever 200 metres at that time, but I was ready and raring to go for Switzerland, right up until the moment I’d settled on the start line. Shortly after the gun went Bang! Wallace’s words came back to haunt me. At first my drive phase was good, but when I started swinging and the metres passed – 40, 50, 60 – my body died on the track. After 70 I had nothing left, all my energy had gone. Then I looked across and saw X-Man running out of the corner. He was taking the lead.

‘Ah, crap,’ I thought. ‘I’m going to lose this race. Wallace was right.’

I settled myself, knowing I could still take second place without too much stress.

‘Whatever, though,’ I said to myself. ‘I’m just chillin’, I’m running home …’

Then the worst thing happened. X-Man crossed the line in first place, he was seriously charged up, and to prove it he showed the crowd his trademark celebration, making the ‘X’ with his arms as he jogged around the back stretch. That got me riled.

‘Seriously? You don’t come to the World Champs and that’s what you’re going to do?’ I thought. ‘You’re gonna “X” me? Oh, you’re kidding.’

I was so upset, and when I saw Wallace shortly afterwards he was laughing hard.

‘I told you not to run!’ he said. ‘I warned you.’

I was still furious. ‘Yo, next race you see me and X-Man running together?’ I said. ‘Do not come onto that start line.’

‘What?!’ said Wallace.

‘Seriously now,’ I said, determined. ‘Do not come into that race. It’s going to be payback time.’

I meant it too, but Xavier had given me a lesson every bit as valuable as the ones handed out by Coach: I had to understand my body better. I had to learn when I was tired. Without that knowledge, I could forget ever becoming a major force in track and field.

* The Golden League was replaced by the Diamond League in 2010. The Golden League held events in Zurich, Brussels, Oslo, Rome, Paris and Berlin.