Since last summer’s Olympic Games it has often been said that Usain Bolt’s popularity transcends the sport of Athletics, and the 150 plus media personnel and half a dozen camera crews who packed into the tenth floor conference room of the Pullman Paris Tour Eiffel hotel late this afternoon were proof positive of the effect that ‘Beijing Bolt’ can have on even a major world capital.
At a press conference ahead of this Friday’s (17 July) Meeting Areva, the fourth fixture of the ÅF Golden League 2009, we witnessed a press gathering the scale and atmosphere the like of which Athletics, outside a major championship, hasn’t seen since the days of Carl Lewis or Michael Johnson. Even the ever confident, ever cool three-time Olympic gold medallist found himself momentarily overawed.
You’ve seen this sort of crowd of media at meetings before asked the moderator?
“No, there’s a lot more (media) here today than I’ve seen (at any meeting) since Beijing,” was Bolt’s reply, which set off another round of clicking shutters from the massed ranks of photographers, which initially was so intense that it made it hard to pick-up clearly what the Jamaican had to say.
Past Parisian experience
Bolt’s decision to run the 100m here on Friday will mark a first time appearance on the track of the Stade de France for the World record holder but that didn’t concern him as he’s more or less at home in the French capital.
“When I was 17 I came here for the (2003) World Championships. I didn’t compete but I was in the village, and it (Paris) was a great experience.”
Not knowing the track Bolt would not be drawn on times but confirmed:
“I’m looking forward to it and if the weather is good like today (sunny, 23c) there should be something special.”
“I have come here to show them (the crowd) a good time, to show them a personality, to give them entertainment.”
“I feed off the energy of the crowd.”
Working on the start
But what about Bolt’s recent poor starting of races, has he been working on that aspect of his race?
“Yes, I can improve. I looked at the race (Ostrava 100m on 17 June – 9.77 sec / +2.1m/s) on video with my coach (Glenn Mills) and have been working on it (start). All I need is a good or a moderate start and my race will be better.”
I don’t fear any athlete
What has Coach Mills said to you about World champion Tyson Gay’s 9.77 run last Friday in Rome (10 July)?
“We didn’t really talk about that race.”
“He (Mills) just asked me what time am I going to run here in Paris, so he obviously is very confident in me and what I can run.”
“But I’m always a confident person, that’s the most important thing on the track.”
“Even if I lose there is no breaking that confidence. I always just analyse my race and bounce back.”
“My coach told me ‘you have to learn how to lose before you can learn how to win’.”
“And I don’t fear any athlete whatever time they run.”
Berlin - Stepping stone to becoming a legend
So what about the World Championships in Berlin - 12th IAAF World Championships in Athletics, Berlin, Germany (15 – 23 Aug) - how important are they to you?
“Very! I got silver last time and I’m working hard to get the gold this time. It is a stepping stone to becoming a legend, as I want to show that Beijing wasn’t just a one-time thing.”
You ran 19.59 sec in the rain and cold into a headwind in Lausanne (7 July; wind -0.9m/s) what do you think you can achieve in Berlin?
“I have not yet started 200m training yet!”
“Between now and Berlin it’s going to be REALLY intense training.”
“That’s why I ran so fast in Lausanne as if I had gone any slower then I knew that coach would have made the training I’m going to be doing after London (24/25 July) even more intense,” said Bolt smiling but obviously not looking forward to the extremely hard work to come.
The 400m – it hurts
And the future? The 400 metres?
“If my coach can convince me to run 400 I will but personally I don’t want to!”
“It’s too hard for me. It hurts!”
Putting his feet up
Looking even further ahead to retirement what will you do, will you remain in athletics?
“No I don’t think I’ll become a coach. By the time I have finished running that will be it for me."
"No, I’ll just get myself a business and put my feet up on the desk in the office!”
Not if Coach Mills has anything to do with the business you won’t!
Chris Turner for the IAAF