Usain Bolt: 'I haven't run for so long. For the first time, I'm nervous'

After a difficult 2010, the Jamaican wants to show he's still the world's best. But, for once, he has his doubts

There was something different about Usain Bolt yesterday as he sat in the basement room of a hotel in the western suburbs of Rome, talking about his looming return to competitive life in the fast lane. More than one thing, actually.

For a start, there was the subtle Mohawk cut of his hair. Then there was the Azzurri colour of the Italian national football team shirt on his back. "You look like Mario Balotelli," someone suggested.

It was not the greatest compliment to pay a Manchester United fan, someone so devoted to the Red Devil cause that he will be heading from the Italian capital, where he runs his first race of 2011 tomorrow night – the 100 metres in the Golden Gala IAAF Diamond League meeting at the Stadio Olimpico – to London for Saturday's Champions' League final. Still, the world's fastest man took the observation in his stride, in characteristic good humour.

Asked what he felt about being compared to a Manchester City player, Bolt laughed and replied: "Balotelli, he's a great player. He's a little bit aggressive but he's a great player, so it's OK."

Bolt is the polar opposite of aggressive and not just a great player in his chosen sport but one of the all-time greats. He's certainly the fastest athlete of all time, but the stunning 9.58sec that the 24-year-old Jamaican clocked for the 100m at the World Championships in Berlin dates back to the summer before last.

In 2011, the new-look Bolt – not just with his little Mohawk but also with a leaner yet more muscular 6ft 5in frame – is a man on a mission. "Last season wasn't my best," he said. "It was kind of a down time for me. This season is back to business. I'm really focused and ready. I'm going out there to prove to the world that I'm still the best. But for the first time I'm slightly nervous – I haven't run in so long."

School has been out for the "Lightning Bolt" since 6 August last year, the night he was upstaged in the 1912 Olympic Stadium in Stockholm. First there was a stretch limousine pulling up halfway down the home straight and Alice Cooper stepping out to declare: "Let the games begin." Then, when the gun fired to start the 100m final in the DN Galan Diamond League meeting, there was Tyson Gay stretching away in front of a patently out-of-sorts Bolt.

The Jamaican was a pale shadow of the invincible speed merchant who tore up the world record books at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and at those 2009 World Championships in Berlin. An Achilles tendon injury had taken its toll, together with a lack of motivation in a summer season bereft of the big goal of a global championship.

An examination in Munich by Dr Hans-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt, the celebrated German guru of the sports medicine world, also showed a problem in the lower back, a tightness that was restricting Bolt's ability to generate power with his huge, raking stride. It was nothing new.

To the wider world, it might have seemed that Bolt had shot out of the blue in 2008 – when he smashed the 100m world record in New York and Beijing and claimed Michael Johnson's supposedly untouchable global 200m mark – but he was simply realising the phenomenal potential he had shown as a 15-year-old world junior (Under-20) champion in 2002. In between times, his progress had been hamstrung by a succession of injuries all related to the congenital spinal condition that re-emerged in the aftermath of his season-ending defeat in Stockholm last summer.

Since birth Bolt has suffered from scoliosis (as in the Greek skolios, or crooked), a curvature that can distort the spine into a pronounced S-shape and cause all manner of back and hamstring problems. It affected him in 2004 when he was expected to make a big impact as a 17-year-old at the Athens Olympics; he was knocked out in the first-round heats of the 200m. It was the same at the World Championships in Helsinki in 2005; he reached the final of the 200m but limped home last in 26.27sec – yes, a school sports day-ish 26.27sec. Ditto in 2006, when he was forced to miss the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.

Bolt has been making regular trips to see Müller-Wohlfahrt in an effort to keep his back in working order. He made another this week, his third of the year, en route from Jamaica to Italy. "I did stop in Munich to make sure I was OK," Bolt said. "The doctor gave me the go-ahead. I wouldn't say I'm in perfect shape but I'm in good shape. I'm looking forward to racing and competing at my best."

Bolt admitted last week that he had suffered "a small setback" in his preparation for the track season but insisted yesterday that his scoliosis was not a major problem. "I just make sure I have my regular check-ups," he said. "I keep it in check."

To help do that, Bolt has adapted his training to include more strength and core-stability work, with the result that he has lost 10lb in weight yet gained more muscle. "I've been doing a lot of work strength-wise, core-wise," he said. "That's why I might look a little bit bigger. I've got more muscles."

For good measure, Bolt flexed his right biceps. The question is: can he deliver a knockout sprint performance tomorrow night in a Roman arena that has already witnessed one notable 100m run by a Jamaican-born speed merchant?

In the World Championship final in the Stadio Olimpico in 1987, Ben Johnson blitzed Carl Lewis and took a 10th of a second off Calvin Smith's world record with a time of 9.83sec. It was only after Johnson did something similar in the 1988 Olympic final in Seoul, on that occasion lowering the world record to 9.79sec, that the Canadian athlete originally from Falmouth – Falmouth, Jamaica – was found to have been charged up in both races on anabolic steroids.

Johnson's tainted times have long been deleted from the results books but something like his Roman run of 24 years ago, 9.83sec, would represent a more than satisfactory return for Bolt. Last summer his fastest 100m time was 9.82sec.

Only time and the tide of the 2011 season, which climaxes with the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, in August, will tell whether the Lightning Bolt can strike as quickly as he did when he clocked his 9.58sec in Berlin two years ago.

Asked whether he had a target time in mind for tomorrow night, Bolt replied: "I couldn't say. I normally would have, but I am blank. I don't know what time I can run. I am just hoping for the best. I have been going well in training so I am hoping for a good time."

As it happens, Bolt is hoping for a good time all round tomorrow night. "I would like to say something," he announced, as his press conference was about to break up. "I had a dream last night. I dreamt that I went out in Rome on Thursday and I found a very beautiful Italian. We got married and we lived happily ever after."

Failing that, "a 2-1 win" for his beloved United on Saturday night would be a dream result for the Balotelli lookalike.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Management Trainer

£30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Exciting career opportunity to join East...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Scientist / Research Assistant

£18000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious start-up company b...

Reach Volunteering: Chair of Trustees

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Do you love the Engl...

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines