He’s the fastest man in the world, who has run 100 metres in 9.58 seconds, with nine Olympic gold medals to prove it. As a new film celebrates his extraordinary career, Usain Bolt reflects on his 9.58 defining moments.
1. It started with a free lunch
I was more interested in cricket than in running when I was at school. Like most Jamaicans, I just lived for cricket and played every minute that I could. But my teachers could see how fast I was and they wanted me to try track and field.
That didn’t look as much fun to me. When I was 12 years old, to convince me to give athletics a go, our pastor, Reverend Nugent, promised a box lunch to whoever won a race. In Jamaica, a box lunch is full of chicken and rice – a great prize – and I loved my food. Still do! So I ran the fastest and won the box lunch.
That was how it all started. The prizes got a bit bigger over the years, but it’s the same determination to come first that makes me who I am today.
2. The youngest world junior champ ever
In 2002, at 15, I ran in the world junior championships in Kingston, Jamaica, and won the 200m, which made me the youngest world junior champion ever. That really opened the eyes of the people.
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Bolt celebrates winning the 200m final during the Junior Athletics World Championships. July 18, 2002
Before the race I was absolutely terrified when I heard them chanting my name. I couldn’t believe they knew who I was. I was so nervous, I put my running shoes on the wrong feet!
But I used that adrenaline and those nerves and put them into the race and I got such a buzz from the crowd. That’s the first time I realised that I could use their energy, harness it and use it to get myself in the right frame of mind for the race.
I love racing. I hate the training, but being on the track in front of a crowd, that’s what I live for.
3. Learning to lose is learning to win
Losing the 200m to Tyson Gay of the USA at the 2007 world championships was a really, really defining moment for me, because I really wanted that one.
I remember going to my coach [Glen Mills] beforehand and asking for his advice and he said, “You just have to do it.” Simple as that. But I couldn’t.
I think that was the moment that helped me to realise that I wanted to win every race. Until then, I’d found training hard and the motivation wasn’t always there. But losing to Tyson gave me fire in my belly and I never lost after that.
My coach told me, “You’ve got to learn to lose before you can learn to win.” I never forgot that. That was a massive thing for me, once I actually understood what it meant.
4. Ditching the pain of the 400m
Most people know me best for the 100m, but what they don’t realise is that when I first started out, my main focus was the 200m. In 2007, my coach wanted me to start running the 400m as well, like I used to at high school, but I hated the 400m. The endless repetitions were hard, it was painful, and it wasn’t really me.
I did a deal with Coach: he said I could have one go at the 100m, but if it didn’t work out, I had to switch back to the 400m. He likes doing deals!
The first 100m I ran, after the 2007 season, was in 10.03 seconds and that was really a defining moment. If I hadn’t managed it, I would be running the 400m right now. And I would be tired!
5. Breaking the 10-second barrier
In 2008, I ran the 100m in 9.76 seconds, which was the second-fastest time ever. People were like, “Wow!” I think that was an eye-opener, not just for me, but for other people.
That was the moment they realised, and I realised, that I was going to dominate this sport.
Switching to the 100m, as it turns out, was a good decision. A very good decision.
6. My first Olympic gold medal
I’d been to the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004, but I hadn’t been ready. I won two silvers.
By 2008, it felt different. I’d started running 100m, for a start, and despite everyone’s expectations I was good at it. I’d learnt some important lessons about nerves, and preparation, and commitment, and I felt so ready when I got to Beijing. Not only did I win the 100m, I ran 9.69 seconds and broke the world record.
I got to the photographers, pulled my arm back as if I was firing an arrow, and the “To Di World” pose was born. I went on to win the 200m and the relay, too. It was wild!
7. Vowing never to lose again!
I’d had five solid years of winning most of my races, so losing to Yohan Blake hurt badly. It was the 2012 Olympic qualifiers, in Jamaica, and I was just feeling sluggish. My legs didn’t feel right and I came out of the blocks too slow. It was enough to qualify me for the Games in London, but it drained me. I said afterwards to Blake that I would never, ever let him beat me again. Or anybody else. And I stayed true to my word.
8. Winning three golds at London 2012
I’ve always loved the London crowd. They always give me an amazing welcome and I don’t know if racing has ever been as good anywhere else. I always look forward to running at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and, before I retire, I would definitely like to race there again [at the 2017 world championships].
London’s always where I have the best energy, with the best crowd, and it’s somewhere I’ve always loved competing. To win Olympic gold three times there was incredible. And the clubs are good fun afterwards. Every night’s a good night in London!
9. A last gold at my last Olympics
Everyone thinks I’m always joking around, but the hard work I have to put in is no joke. The training is rough, it’s stressful, it involves a lot of sacrifice, and it means dedication. But it’s been worth it to win nine gold medals. When I got home from Rio, I put all nine of my medals together, took a beautiful picture, then put them in an extremely safe deposit box to hide them from all the people that are watching!
9.58. What comes next? I have a plan...
I don’t know exactly when I’ll retire, but I know I’ll be making that decision next year and, whatever comes next, it will involve staying in the sport. I want to stay close to the world of track and field. I want to help the sport, and help to motivate everybody. I’ve always done that, and I can’t stop now. But first, I need a rest. I’ve asked for six months off. I just want to get some sleep, lie on a beach, and not have to do any training for a while!
I Am Bolt is released in cinemas, on digital download, Blu-Ray and DVD on 28 November