When he crossed the finish line just after 7:30pm (EST) on Sunday 24 June, 20-year-old Usain St. Leo Bolt not only rewrote the Jamaican record books, erasing the oldest record but he appeared to have resuscitated what seemed to have been flagging confidence by a wide section of the Jamaican sporting public.
Bolt who had broken the World Junior record in the 200m in April 2004, two years after becoming the youngest ever World Junior champion (15yrs 332days) when he won the 200m at the IAAF World Junior champion in Kingston, appeared destined to be another footnote in this history of track and field.
A series of injuries that threatened to derail his career, reports of hard partying and lack of interest in training had caused many to write him off as another over paid, spoiled athlete.
The days of the clown are gone
Sunday night (24 June) after crossing the line in 19.75 seconds to break the 35-year-old mark set by Olympic legend Don Quarrie in Cali, Colombia in August 1971, 15 years before he was even born, Bolt turned and ran to the front of the grandstand at the national championships where he soaked up the applause from the fans.
Flash back to two years ago at the second Jamaica International invitational where he high stepped across the finish line, head to one side before running into a crowd of fans where he was mobbed by adoring fans.
Bolt with a new found maturity belying his age and even more confidence says the clowning around on the track is over. Gone also is the long silver chain he used to run with clamped between his jaws.
“Personally I felt it was time to get serious,” he said in an interview less then 24 hours after he set the new Jamaican record.
“Over the years I have learned a lot and it forces you to grow up quickly, I am hungry for a title under my belt and if you want to be a World champion you have to be serious, buckle down and do the work required,” said the Kingston IAAF High Performance Training Centre, athlete.
This appeared nigh impossible a few years ago when it appeared he would be another flash in the pan and one who appeared hungry for attention.
Coach help to sort things out
These days he said his hunger is for a major title and while he stops just short of predicting a medal at the 11th IAAF World Championships in Athletics, Osaka, Japan, (25 Aug to 2 Sep), he states simply that he considers himself in the top three in the world right now and added that having studied his good friend, American Wallace Spearman, knows what it takes to beat him.
It did not take an intervention to get him to see the light he said but rather he said, “pretty much it has been just my coach (Glen Mills) and myself,” who sorted things out.
Bolt who has left a long trail of records and gold medals in his wake said “my coach talked to me a lot about maintaining focus” but it was his first hand experience that had the most effect. He said “after going on the circuit last year and seeing others like (American Tyson) Gay run fast it just really open your eyes really to see what is going on around you.”
As fast as he is Bolt cannot outrun his party-animal reputation but says it has been over stated, “Yes there was some partying (but) I am young and I like to go out and enjoy myself. I work very hard and so I like to enjoy myself but I don’t overdo it as too much does not work with performing well on the track.”
Bolt who signed his first professional contract at age 17, just out of William Knibb memorial High School denied that his newfound wealth and popularity had anything to do with his partying.
Nor will the new US seven figure four year contract extension with Puma influence to overdo things. As he sees it, he deserves all that is coming to him.
“I am not that surprised because I think I deserve it as I have been working hard over the years and I am getting better all the time…if you work hard you will get paid and this is why we work hard” he explained.
How fast does he think he can run this season? His quick answer was, “I don't know, I think I can get under 19.70 but can’t say exactly how fast.”
Paul Reid for the IAAF