What is Usain Bolt, the world's fastest man, really like?

Katie Gornall
Katie GornallNov 25, 2016 | 16:23

What is Usain Bolt, the world's fastest man, really like?

What is it like to command a frame of muscle and bone so perfectly conditioned that, at the bang of a starting pistol, you move so explosively that you leave the world behind?

The remarkable thing about Bolt is that even his peers are not in a position to know. So what is it like to be Usain Bolt?

And, as fast as the burst from his sprinters' blocks, the 30-year-old responds: "Awesomeness."

This is a man very comfortable in his own skin. Sitting in a restaurant he owns in Jamaica's capital Kingston, his home since he was 16 years old, the busy market streets and city noise reflect the media frenzy around his every move.

How does it feel to watch Usain Bolt? Awesomeness.

Inside, everything is calm as he lopes slowly down the stairs. He allows his long, powerful body to adjust to the contours of a chair. How on earth does a man who is 6feet 5inches ever get out of the blocks?

Staying motivated

Bolt is here to talk about his documentary I Am Bolt - a behind-the-scenes look at his life and journey to superstardom. He wants it, above all, to inspire everyone to be the best they can possibly be.

"The hardest thing is to motivate yourself," he says. "I talk to myself… especially when I'm in training and I don't want to do it anymore, I say 'If you wanna be a champion you gotta go, get up'. I say 'you’regonna lose. You don't wanna lose. So let's finish this'."

The desire to motivate derives from the need to identify what every talented performer, especially someone as gifted as Bolt, hides: the sacrifices they make to reach their goals.

"People always say to me 'Usain, it looks so easy.' It's not easy... it's a lot of work, you just don't see it. And all the injuries and stress that I go through and what I'm thinking…. all these things I just want to share with the world."

Back to Bolt's roots

To really understand the world's fastest man, you have to leave Kingston and head to where it all began.

There are a special few who have the ability to transcend their sports. Baseball's Babe Ruth, football's Pele, basketball's Michael Jordan and boxing's Muhammad Ali all come to mind. But how much did growing up in Pigtown, Bauru, Wilmington and Louisville have to do with the charismatic brilliance of their famous sons?

The residents of the small village of Sherwood Content, hugged by wooded hills in the north of the island, are in no doubt: no Sherwood Content, no Usain Bolt the superstar.

This secluded part of the countryside is three hours drive west of the capital but tracking down Bolt's Aunt Lilly isn't hard to do - she has "Welcome Aunt Lilly" painted on the side of her house. She has a theory that the secret of her nephew's success is really down to her cooking.

Waldensia Primary School in Sherwood Content. (Photo: BBC)

Breaking in and out of patois, she says that his speed comes from "the yam, the dumpling and the pork... he's a man who really love food".

Young Usain would pop by Lilly's house before going home from school or track events. No one listening to Lilly could fail to believe in the magical power of her meals.

She never doubted that her nephew was special "but we didn't know what was ahead of him". When asked about Bolt's unique "triple triple" - winning three gold medals in three consecutive Olympics - she says: "Well, I knew he would do it" adding "cos he said he was gonna do it".

'He's a sore loser'

Bolt's sporting education began at Waldensia Primary School, a short walk from the house where his parents still live.

His former teacher, Sheron Seivwright, points out that he always commanded attention. "I don't know what his parents fed him on but he was quite energetic, could run very, very fast at his tender age," she says.

Seivwright lives opposite the small, colourful school, a mural of Bolt in his famous 'lightning Bolt' pose is visible from her window. During Thursday 'games time', she remembers watching Bolt win races against older children. On the rare occasions someone beat him, he was a sore loser.

She remembers: "He would cry. Always cry. And I would rub his head and say 'no, man, you can't cry. One day you're gonna be a great runner'."

Bolt insists the 2017 World Championships in London in August will definitely be his last competition. (Photo: Reuters)

When asked how she feels watching him race now, Seivwright's reserve falls away. "Every time I hear his name or I see him run, [I get] goose pimples. I scream, I yell, I jump up and down. I can't believe he's such a great legend, a great hero. I'm so very, very proud," she says.

And that's it: he is a world superstar, but Jamaica's champion. He's the man who not only brought them dancing, screaming, leap-up-and-down joy, but also unbridled, smiling pride.

Back in the restaurant, I tell Bolt that a family member had told me that "all the Bolts are superstars". He instinctively identifies my source, "Auntie Lilly, I bet", adding, "But yeah, we're cool people."

'He's not a morning person'

Bolt recognises that his genes have played a part in his journey but so, too, has his environment and the management of his abilities. His success has brought great adventures but also a punishing schedule of media and commercial commitments.

By his side throughout it all is his executive manager NJ Walker, his best friend since he was six years old.

"We look at my job as a buffer between him and the rest of the world," says Walker. "So everyone comes to NJ and Usain can focus on track and field.

"I oversee aspects of his life. I coordinate his appearances, review contracts, negotiate contracts - the only thing I don't do for him is sign."

What is it like having a best friend who has won nine Olympic gold medals?

"To know that your friend you grew up with, played with in the street, has had such an impact on the world, has had such achievements - we never dream of stuff like this."

NJ speaks with such enthusiasm that it is clear this doesn't feel like a job for him, but there are times he has to keep his friend in line.

"He's not a morning person - so when NJ knocks him up to go somewhere at 6am, he wants to knock me away. But I have his best interests [at heart].

"Even though we have days where he might want me to be his friend more than his manager, we are very good at finding the balance."

Triple triple under threat

For a long time Bolt has offered hope to a sport beleaguered by cheating. While he has stood clean, his rivals have fallen around him.

Fellow sprinters Tyson Gay, Justin Gatlin and Jamaica's Asafa Powell have all served drugs bans and now another of Bolt's team-mates is under investigation.

Should Nesta Carter be suspended for doping, it is possible that each of the members of the Jamaica relay team from the 2008 Beijing Olympics could be forced to hand back their gold medals.

Retests of the sprinter's Beijing 2008 doping samples found traces of a banned stimulant and his fate now rests in the hands of an International Olympic Committee (IOC) disciplinary panel. Through no fault of his own, Bolt's triple triple is under threat.

He says it would be devastating for him to lose a medal but quickly points out that it is not just stressful for him but for everyone in athletics.

"I think the sport is in a really bad place right now, but I think the only place it can go is up," Bolt adds. "I have one more season to help push forward and try and promote the sport in the brightest light I possibly can."

Life after racing

Bolt insists the 2017 World Championships in London in August will definitely be his last competition. But how will he cope when his races are run and his competitions are over? Will he watch the Tokyo Olympics in 2020?

"I might be crying," he jokes. "I will be there for sure. One thing I'm looking forward to now is actually going to the Olympics as a spectator - to actually watch, so I can watch all kinds of different sports. But I don't know how I'm going to feel… they've told me that I'm gonna miss it.

"But you got to retire at some point. As Michael Johnson said, 'retire when you have done everything you wanted to' and I've done everything I wanted to do, so I'm going to retire."

As Aunt Lilly puts it, "the stadiums won't be the same without him".

Bolt says he is talking to IAAF president Lord Coe about his "next focus" to "figure out which way I can help" but what about another sport?

This week it was reported he is to train with German club Borussia Dortmund, a link-up seemingly initiated via shared sponsor Puma. But could the Manchester United fan really swap the track for the football pitch?

"I've always said I wanted to play football," he says. "We've talked about it but I'm not fully sure what we're gonna do yet so we'll see."

But for now we have him, the greatest athlete in the world - perhaps of all time - ready to astonish, thrill, delight us once more.

How does it feel to watch Usain Bolt? Awesomeness.

(The documentary Bolt: Born to Run is scheduled on BBC World News on Saturday, 3rd December 6 pm, Sunday, 4th December at 1 pm, Monday, 5th December at 9 am and Tuesday, 6th December at 2.30 pm.)

Last updated: November 25, 2016 | 16:23
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