It is two weeks and three days now since Usain Bolt's world was turned upside down. He was heading along Highway 2000 to the Jamaican capital of Kingston when his BMW M3 careered off the rain-soaked road and overturned into a ditch. A police source suggested that the world's fastest man could possibly have been speeding.
Bolt stepped from the wreckage unharmed but injured his left foot treading on some thorns and had to undergo minor surgery to have them removed. On Television Jamaica that night, Oral Tracey, an effusive commentator on sporting matters on the Caribbean isle, said that the "big boom and the bang" of the traffic accident should be seen as "a message". "This is a wake-up call," Tracey proclaimed. "To Usain Bolt, we say, 'Heed the call and leave your folly ways behind'."
Around the corner from the cobbled-street set of Coronation Street in Manchester yesterday, Bolt bore the look of someone who might just sleep through the odd alarm call. The 6ft 5in beanpole strolled into the third floor office of 1 The Avenue – for a press conference to publicise his participation in the BUPA Great Manchester 150m street race tomorrow – with his hands buried in his tracksuit pockets. His demeanour was about as urgent as that of Chris Gayle fielding with the rest of the West Indies cricket team up at the Riverside on Thursday.
"I don't know what they mean by 'wake-up call'," Bolt responded, when asked about the critical reaction back home to his "big boom" moment. "I go to training and I do what I have to do. People can say anything they want to say. That is their opinion."
There is some concern in Jamaica, articulated by Oral Tracey and others, that the nation's treasure is in danger of doing damage to himself with his "folly ways". Bolt's penchant for partying until 5am at a Kingston nightspot has been frowned upon as he prepares himself not just for tomorrow's showpiece dash down a specially laid track on Deansgate, but for a post-Olympic track season in which he will be going for a World Championship gold or three in Berlin in August. But then the young fellow is Jamaican; he is 22; and, as Norman Peart, his manager since his school days, has pointed out: "He partied last year and look at his results."
Quite. Bolt even partied in the last 20m of the Olympic 100m final and still won by a veritable street in world record time, 9.69sec. He won the 200m in 19.30sec, breaking Michael Johnson's supposedly untouchable world record for that distance. He also helped Jamaica win the 4 x 100m relay in world record time. On each occasion he celebrated by pulling his favourite dance floor moves.
"I'm trying not to change my lifestyle because I am not going to let anyone change me," Bolt said yesterday, after mimicking the kind of cover drive the West Indies could do with at Chester-le-Street, and easing his wiry frame into a seat next to a window featuring a grey Mancunian skyline. "People come under pressure from the media and they go all crazy. I am not going to let that happen to me. I am going to be myself. I am not going to change. I don't go out a lot."
Since returning from Beijing, Bolt has not been out of Jamaica much, aside from one trip to New York to appear on The Late Show with David Letterman and another to visit his aunt in Florida – on the latter occasion accompanied by a drug-testing team. Before the press conference yesterday, he ventured out to the Manchester United training ground at Carrington to watch morning training and meet his footballing hero, Cristiano Ronaldo. The world's fastest man gave the world footballer of the year "a few tips" – evidently not on the subject of driving. "He asked me about his running," Bolt said of the Portuguese player who smashed his Ferrari next to Manchester Airport in January. "I told him the reason why he has problems is that when he gets to the top speed he tips over a bit. I told him to get his foot on the centre of gravity and then he would stay upright and he will go faster over longer distances. I told him to be a bit tougher on the guys who push him around – take a few more yellow cards and then the guys will stop picking on him."
Bolt will be at Old Trafford at lunchtime today to see at first hand whether his points have been taken, and to see whether his favourite football team can take the point they need to hold on to the Premier League trophy.
When Valeri Borzov won the 100m and 200m at the Munich Olympics in 1972, a headline in The New York Times proclaimed: "The fastest human is a Commie." Now we know that the fastest human is a Red, although cut from rather different cloth to that of Borzov, who was always regarded as a scientifically manufactured product of the Soviet sporting system.
The phenomenon known as the Lightning Bolt defies all of the accepted rules about what it takes to be a world-beating speed merchant: the fast cars, the partying until dawn, the fast-food diet, and not least the chilled-out approach to the stern-faced, confrontational sprinting game.
Once upon a time, the world was accustomed to such spectacles as Linford Christie and Andre Cason attempting to stare down one another during a race and having to be separated from coming to blows after crossing the line, the American Cason claiming that his British rival had threatened to "kill" him. And that was in an indoor 60m race in mid-winter at RAF Cosford. Prior to the Olympic 100m final in Beijing, when the athletes assembled in the call room, where the mind games and the boxing-style braggadocio traditionally begin, Bolt could be found rolling on the floor engaged in a fun-fight with Peart. When he emerged on the track in the "Bird's Nest" arena, while his rivals – his nominal rivals, that is – were locked in a trance-like state, he was joking and clowning to the television cameras.
Not that such a horizontally laid-back approach is without method. "If you go out there worrying if you're going to mess up, then you're going to mess up," Bolt reasoned. "I just relax and think about different stuff until the starter says, 'On your marks.' Then I go into the blocks and focus."
Having altered the definition of Cool Runnings and emerged as a figure of global appeal, Bolt has been like manna from heaven for a sport that has been dragged to the hellish depths of public disdain by its drip, drip succession of high-profile drug cheats.
Nine months on from Beijing, the boy from Trelawny parish remains engagingly unaffected by all of the glory and the adulation. Back home he has employed two live-in bodyguards to deter any would-be harm-doers, but otherwise he still has the same management and coaching team who kept faith in him through his years of struggling to fulfil the world-beating potential he first showed as a teenage sprint prodigy. "Why change things?" the king of the sprint world reasoned as he prepared for his coronation of a street race in Manchester.
Making of a record-breaker: Experts unpick the Bolt enigma
Olympic relay gold medallist and sub-10 seconds 100m man
"He's just phenomenal. His performances are breathtaking. What a refreshing change his manner is to all the strutting up and down the track and all that bravado. He's just so different to guys who have come before. He's the whole package. Great smile after the race, too, something you don't often see from people who win."
Professor of sport and exercise nutrition at Loughborough University
"If one of our athletes who had failed to qualify in the heats had told me he'd eaten chicken nuggets for breakfast I would have given him grief, but when you win the final in a world record time you don't deserve grief. You've done it and it worked. If you're a sprinter it doesn't matter an awful lot what you eat at the last minute."
Former GB national coach. President of European Athletics Coaches' Association
"When we first saw him, breaking world junior records for the 200m, he was every coach's dream in terms of raw material. Now he has everything you want in the arena. When he came down the home straight in the 200m in Beijing, he reminded all of us that an athlete's best pacemaker is himself."
*The sports psychologist
Has worked with Olympic medal winners
"What he has developed, by not switching on and thinking about the race until he gets into his starting blocks, is an extremely good and well-tuned strategy. He's not using up any emotional energy on 'what ifs' and worries. It also helps that he knows if anyone's going to beat him they're going to have to run very fast."
*The marketing man
MD of Fast Track, organisers of Aviva London Grand Prix, featuring Usain Bolt, on 24-25 July
"Thanks to one man's sensational performances in Beijing there has never been a better chance for athletics, the No 1 Olympic sport, to further enhance its wide appeal. We have a truly global, iconic star in Usain Bolt who can hold the attention of almost everyone across all social barriers, from kids to grandparents."
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