When Usain Bolt is not busy trying to give a makeover to his "horrible" starting technique or attempting to improve his all-round fitness, which he currently rates at a mere "85 per cent", the fastest man on the planet likes to spend his time trying to conquer the world on his laptop. "I play Call of Duty online continuously," the triple Olympic gold medallist said in London yesterday, revealing a time-consuming passion for "modern warfare" computer games. "You have to move up your rank. I've got two stars, so I guess that's good. I don't use my name online because people would go for me. They'd all want to beat the world's fastest man."
And they might have a better chance of doing so than the rest of the world's fast men have of doing so on the terra firma of the real world. Bolt was speaking yesterday at a hotel in Park Lane, ahead of his appearance in the London Grand Prix at Crystal Palace on Friday and Saturday. It was not quite Mayfair but the Jamaican has enjoyed a monopoly on the world sprinting scene for exactly a year now.
Today happens to be the anniversary of Bolt's last defeat – in a 100-metre race against his compatriot Asafa Powell in Stockholm. The Lightning Bolt did not get off to the best of starts that night and, 12 months on, his initial speed off the mark is still giving him cause for concern. Unfortunately for his rivals, though, it is not making him look any more beatable.
In the wind and rain in Paris last Friday night, the 22-year-old gave his 100m rivals a head start and still gunned them down with ease, clocking 9.79 seconds on the far from sprinter-friendly Stade de France track. Tyson Gay has run faster this summer – 9.77sec in Rome a fortnight ago – but the trouble for the American is that Bolt is looking like he will threaten his own 9.69sec world record, given a half-decent start and half-decent weather.
The pair will be kept apart at Crystal Palace (Bolt runs in the 100m on Friday and in the 4x100m on Saturday, Gay in the 200m on Saturday) but they are heading for a double showdown at the World Championships, which open in Berlin three weeks on Saturday. Gay heads for the German capital as the defending champion at 100m and 200m and someone yesterday suggested to him that his recent resurgence of form had got Bolt "running scared".
The mere suggestion drew a big laugh from the 6ft 5in Jamaican. "That's definitely not true," Bolt insisted. "I'm not scared of anybody. On my best day, I don't think Tyson Gay is going to beat me in the 100m. I think he has a better chance over 200m."
One reason for that is the fact that Bolt missed a month of training for the longer distance after overturning his BMW M3 into a ditch back home in May. "My speed endurance is not what it should be," he said. "I've got a month to work on that before Berlin."
And on the dodgy start too, of course. "My starts this year have been horrible," Bolt said. "I think it's going to be hard for me to master the start because I'm so tall but I need to get it quick. If I can do that, then I can really go."
The question is how fast Bolt might be able to go when he gets his start up to scratch and gets 100 per cent fit. His coach, Glen Mills, reckons he would have clocked 9.52sec in the Olympic 100m final in Beijing had he not applied the brakes some 20m from the line. "He's been right so far about what I can do," Bolt said, "so I think maybe 9.5-something is possible."
Might there be a possibility of at least a sub 9.69sec clocking at Crystal Palace on Friday – a world record for what looks like being a sell-out crowd? "You never know," Bolt mused. "If the weather is good... which I doubt it will be."
It might help that the south London Palace will be something of a home from home for the young king of the sprint world. Bolt spends the European track season based on the west side of the English capital in Teddington. In Beijing he revealed to the world that Andrew Flintoff was one of his sporting heroes, but he has been too busy on the training track and on his computer to contract Ashes fever at first hand.
"I have seen the highlights, though," Bolt said. "I like aggressive players like Freddie Flintoff. I like Kevin Pietersen too. He makes it really exciting when he plays – not like all those guys who take for ever to make one run. I like the game to be exciting."
He likes his computer games that way too, it would seem – the Jamaican is out to conquer the world, one way or another.
The clock's ticking: Records at risk
World record: 9.69 seconds, Usain Bolt
Possible breakers: Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell, Tyson Gay
Fastest this year: 9.77sec, Gay
Record: 19.30sec, Usain Bolt
Possible breakers: Usain Bolt, Tyson Gay
Fastest this year: 19.59sec, Bolt
Record: 43.18sec, Michael Johnson
Possible breakers: Jeremy Wariner, LaShawn Merritt
Fastest this year: 44.50sec, Merritt