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

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker