Usain Bolt has seen it all before: the madness of the media circus whenever he hits town, any town. The world's fastest man had three bodyguards in tow as he attempted to make his way into the press conference room in the basement of the Villa Pamphili Hotel in the western suburbs of the Eternal City yesterday. He needed them to clear a path through the paparazzi scrum.
For half an hour Bolt sat in the starting blocks of his seat on the stage. He did so in a state of semi-boredom, answering the same old questions, amusing himself by pulling faces and listening to the mass click of the cameras his every movement instantly caused. In the midst of it all, however, came one query that had the Lightning Bolt in a laughing fit.
He was asked what he thought about the American sprinter Justin Gatlin saying in Doha the other week that the world was getting bored with "the Bolt Show", that it was time for someone else to take the limelight. "I don't want to sound rude," Bolt replied, after regaining his composure, "but I think Gatlin's had his chance. To say, 'Get ready for the Gatlin Show' is funny.
"There are a lot of other athletes. You can't count out Tyson Gay, and Yohan Blake is back, so I think he has a few guys to get past before he should be worried about me."
As to the question of whether Bolt himself should have cause to be a worried man – ahead of his first Diamond League appearance of the summer, in the 100m at the Golden Gala meeting in Rome's Stadio Olimpico tomorrow – the Jamaican did not even bother to give a shrug of the shoulders.
Sure, by his own freakish 9.58sec world-record standards, his failure to break 10 seconds in the Golden Spike meeting at Ostrava in the Czech Republic last Friday evening had to be rated as a poor showing. But was it cause for concern two months out from the defence of his Olympic 100m and 200m crowns in London?
"I never stress over things like this," Bolt said, laughing again. "I've gone through so much, so many things that even if I lose every race up to the Olympics it doesn't matter because I know that I have one focus – and that is just to go to the Olympics and do great things.
"I'm confident that myself and my coach can put together a programme to be a champion. I will focus on that. My coach is the greatest coach ever and knows exactly what to do to get me to the top. I'm not worried.
"You have to enjoy your job and I enjoy my job. I'm always going to be the same. I'm always relaxed. I don't change that just because it is an Olympic year."
Evidently not. Lest it be forgotten, Bolt was not beaten in Ostrava. Indeed, no fellow sprinter has managed to get past him in any 100m or 200m race for 18 months now – since the August night in 2010 that he trailed home behind Gay, Gatlin's United States team-mate, in Stockholm, suffering from an injury that forced the curtailment of his season.
Bolt did, of course, get the better of himself in the World Championship 100m final in Daegu in August last year. He jumped the gun and was disqualified for a false start.
In Ostrava he did the opposite. He got stuck in his blocks and had to dig deep to catch Kim Collins, the veteran speed merchant from St Kitts, before salvaging victory in 10.04sec. It was Bolt's slowest ever 100m time outside of heats and semi-finals.
"It was just one of my bad races," the 25-year-old said. "I have to put that behind me and just move on. For me, it's not a worry. I have a lot more races to run.
"On that day my legs weren't feeling good and I wasn't feeling that energetic. Maybe it was lack of sleep or not enough food or something. I didn't have the energy I usually have so I've just been trying to get lots of sleep and eat properly.
"I'm training better than in Ostrava, so I seem to be on a better track. Technically wise, it wasn't that bad. It was just the first 45 to 50 metres, when my shoulders were coming up a bit, but not much more.
"Everybody has bad races. It's just one of those things in track and field. You can't win every race, and you can't come out and run fast every day. We are humans and we have off races and it's just one of those things.
"This is sport. It happens in basketball and baseball and it happens to athletes. I'm never worried because at the end of the day it's all about the championships.
"I've set high standards and people expect you to do certain things. I know I'll have bad races but I've got to stay focused on my goal."
The standards Bolt set at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 were 9.69sec for 100m and 19.30sec for 200m. He raised them – or rather lowered his times – to 9.58sec and 19.19sec at the World Championships in Berlin a year later.
Despite his relative lack of speed in Ostrava – where the unfavourable weather was another factor, as well as the travel-weariness – Bolt does top the 100m world rankings in London Olympic year. At the Jamaica Invitational meeting in Kingston on 5 May he clocked 9.82sec. The next fastest is Blake, the training partner who took his world 100m title after his disqualification in Daegu, with 9.84sec.
Then comes Gatlin, the American who has had more than one chance in the sport, having served two drugs bans. He won in Doha in 9.87sec, finishing 0.01sec ahead of Asafa Powell, who will be among Bolt's rivals in the Stadio Olimpico tomorrow night.
So what will be the Lightening Bolt's target on the Roman track where Ben Johnson blitzed to tainted victory in world record time at the 1987 World Championships? "I definitely want to win," he said, "but for me it's about the execution too, and getting my start right consistently. A fast time would be very nice too.
"Rome is definitely a fast track. Asafa has run 9.7sec here. People said I predicted I would run 9.7secs in Ostrava. What I said was I would like to run 9.7sec because I had just run 9.8sec in Jamaica. I never predict times."
Still, the chances are that when it comes to the Olympic 100m final in London on 5 August the digits on the trackside clock will be pretty low. It has not escaped Bolt's attention that the British athletes who took part in the test event in the 2012 Olympic Stadium earlier this month described the Mondo surface as a fast track.
"That's a good thing," he said. "I'm definitely looking forward to competing on that track. For the championships, I always turn up and I always run fast. I'm looking forward to doing my best there.
"People are looking for me to run 9.4sec but you can see I have bad days. As long as I am fit and I am ready, anything is possible."
8 Major golds won by Usain Bolt across 100m, 200m and the 4x100m relay – including three at the 2008 Olympics.
9.58s Bolt's world record time in the 100m, set in the final at the 2009 World Championship in Berlin.
19.19 Bolt's winning 200m time in Germany in 2009, breaking his own world record.
0.16 Seconds taken off the 100m world record by Bolt since he first broke it in 2008.Reuse content