Usain Bolt has made a habit of achieving the seemingly impossible.
His twin sweeps to 100 metre, 200m and 4x100m relay golds at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics secured icon status by his mid-20s. A colossal eight triumphs at the World Championships have been gained, with his sprint domination sealed by setting 100m and 200m records that have pushed the parameters of human performance courtesy of his giant 6 foot 5 inch frame.
Last season again saw him achieve the incomprehensible, though not for the reasons that have previously detailed his legendary career. A fragmented year that began with a nine-week lay-off because of a hamstring injury and continued with a persistent foot problem, was cut short in August after competing in only three meets.
This chain of events saw Bolt written off, something that seems unbelievable for a person named IAAF World Male Athlete of the Year for the fifth time in six years in 2013.
The top step of the podium was earned during the trio of appearances in 2014, including new 100m indoor and Commonwealth Games 4x100m benchmarks. But it was American nemesis Justin Gatlin who stole the limelight, remaining undefeated as he bestrode the elite Diamond League while ‘the World’s Fastest Man’ remained on the treatment table.
Speaking above New York’s Times Square to celebrate the introduction of PUMA’s Ignite running shoe, the Jamaican declared his desire to reassert his sprint supremacy.
“Last season, I felt the way people were writing and talking was like I had retired,” he said. “I felt like I was not in the sport anymore.
“People kept on asking ‘will Usain Bolt be as good as he was before’? But I was like… [blows lips and shrugs shoulders]. I have been injured many times but I have always come back and done great things. I do not see why this time should be any different. Stories sell when you write certain things. I am definitely looking forward to competing with Justin Gatlin, it should be a good season.”
A new circuit heralds a fresh start. The showdown with Gatlin during August’s World Championships in Beijing – at the same Bird’s Nest stadium he reigned over seven years ago – should provide the highlight of the sporting calendar. Success there will then provide the springboard to the 2016 Rio Olympics, where a third-consecutive sweep will put him where no man has gone before.
— Usain St. Leo Bolt (@usainbolt) February 11, 2015
After such frustrating disruption in 2014, Bolt is looking forward to enjoying the benefits of a solid pre-season under coach Glen Mills when he puts on his running spikes for the first time during a cobweb-clearing 400m run out at February 14’s Camperdown Classic.
He said: “The World Championships are very crucial. This season is a really big season, because one thing we have learned over the years is that is always a good season when one runs into the other. I need to stay injury free and compete at my best this year. I will be on the front foot going into this season, unlike last season when I started on the back foot.”
Ambition clearly remains bright within Bolt. He’s animated when discussing what lies ahead in Brazil.
“It is to do something that nobody has ever done before, winning three gold medals three times at three consecutive Olympics,” he said.
“That is what it is all about, doing something nobody has ever done before. I will definitely be going for all three. It is the only right thing to do – make it nine gold medals.
“That is the focus. If everything goes smoothly from this season into the next, it should be no problem.”
The issue of where Bolt finds competition is key, after already achieving the awe-inspiring. When asked whether this comes from fellow athletes or within his own mind, he replied: “Yes and no. Yes, I try to better myself every time but I have competitors I respect to the fullest. I look forward to competing every season, to prove to them and the world that I am the best – for me, it is about time.”
Barriers beyond his physical wellbeing will determine his future. If Bolt is to make the top step of the podium his own again at Rio, age will – for the first time – be a factor.
He is no longer the upstart that seized the globe’s attention at the 2008 Games, or the superstar ascending to the divine four years later in London. Bolt will be 29 when he takes to the track in South America and victory in the 100m would make him the oldest champion since Linford Christie in 1992. Certain sacrifices, including his beloved chicken nuggets, have occurred as the wasting specter of time starts to close.
“Thank you for reminding me,” he joked when asked about the issue of ageing. “You’re trying to depress me. I’m not worried. I have set the bar so high and raised the standard of what it takes to win championships. I have what it takes. I am going to keep working hard, doing what I do best and that is win championships and break records. That is my focus. I have stopped with the fast food now. I have started eating more greens and try not to eat late at night any more.
“My coach said I need to start taking better care of myself, as I am getting older.”
Bolt is considered one of the most frequently-tested athletes on earth, ensuring he remains a paragon in a field all too often tainted by performance-enhancing drugs.
The scandal came close to home two years ago, Jamaican athletics riddled by repeat doping failures that saw Asafa Powell as its most infamous transgressor.
Change is afoot on the Caribbean island, Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission (JADCO) executive director stating at the end of last month that blood testing will be introduced by the end of the 2014/15 fiscal year.
“I feel for me anything to make the sport better, I am all for,” Bolt said. “Anything it needs to make people believe in the sport, I am all for.”
The issue is what is to come after athletics is rapidly approaching with a retirement date in 2017 set. Bolt has said that professional football is on his mind but it seems a cold day in Manchester has changed this desire.
He said: “I have always wanted to try football, as I watch it a lot and thought I can probably do this. But between Sir Alex Ferguson retiring and doing a shoot with PUMA ambassador Sergio Aguero, in which I was freezing cold, I thought, ‘I am not going to do this’.
“I do not like the cold, I was not happy.”
The PUMA IGNITE running shoe will be released in the UAE on March 10, priced Dh530.
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