The Bolt express
THESE are the chronicles of Usain Bolt, the Jamaican sprinter who has become a global superstar in the track and field arena. The reigning 100m, 200m and 4x100m world record holder with six Olympic gold medals to his name, writes the story of his humble beginnings in Trelawny, Jamaica, and his rise to international superstardom in this book.
None of the bullish demolition of his rivals, the after-race flamboyance, or the fancy poses and dance celebrations on tracks around the world prepared me for the self-aggrandizement that is a recurring theme of this autobiography.
From the first chapter entitled “I Was Put on This Earth to Run” to the boastful declaration of “I am a living legend. Bask in my glory,” at a media conference during the 2012 London Olympics, Bolt litters his life story with the kind of self-importance many would argue is a trait of champions. Fortunately, Bolt’s easy going nature and fun-loving character does make the egotistical overtones easier to accept.
Having said that, I couldn’t help but be amazed by the sheer talent of Usain Bolt and his insatiable desire to be the best at whatever he does. He talks candidly about picking up golf and almost immediately giving up the sport because he knew he would never be the best at it. Even with other sporting passions, like cricket and football, that he does not compete in, Bolt shares that his competitive nature always drives him to win at all costs. And this drive is mirrored in every race – every loss is translated into an intense determination to avenge it, and every win keeps him hungry for more.
In the book, Bolt sheds light on the rivalries between the world’s top runners, especially the battle between him and American sprinter Tyson Gay. According to Bolt, the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, Japan, marked the start of the intense rivalry between the two when, finishing second, Bolt realised he was “able to step up in the biggest events ... I was on Tyson Gay’s tail for real”. But being able to step up wasn’t enough for Bolt, who was dissatisfied with coming in second: “I had only one thought on my mind: Yo Tyson Gay, you got lucky.”
The book is a great read for track and field fans, as Bolt allows the reader into the camaraderie between the esteemed Jamaican sprinters, the intense training that makes him the fastest man in the world, and personal details of his conversations with his coach, Glen Mills. It was Mills, for instance, who convinced Bolt he was gifted, pointing out that the world’s best sprinters take 45 steps to finish the 100m while Bolt would only require 41 due to his height. This and the high standards the coach set for him spurred Bolt to believe in his ability and to start working towards achieving unprecedented success.
Track fans will also love the chapters on the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and the 2012 Olympics in London. Details of the training in preparation for the Olympics, and the mental exhilaration and physical exhaustion experienced as Bolt broke three world records in Beijing are chapters that prompted me to search for clips of the races on the Internet to re-live the moments. The London Olympics also offered a lot of fun details, especially on the words exchanged between Bolt and his fellow countryman and rival Yohan Blake as their psychological warfare intensified towards race day.
Bolt also reveals details of his battle with scoliosis (an abnormal curving of the spine), his constant quest for fitness, and his fight against fatigue and laziness. Through these honest revelations, Bolt comes off as an athlete with commitment issues, which only adds to the wonder of all his achievements.
His dietary indulgences (chicken nuggets), his late night partying, and dalliances with fast cars and loose women are all openly discussed, including the 2009 car crash from which he was lucky enough to emerge unscathed. I could see the battle that he fights day in and day out in managing his celebrity status while still trying to maintain the discipline to stay on top, and Bolt makes it evident through his misgivings that this is easier said than done.
In my opinion, the book does not represent a motivational story about a man’s hard slog to the summit of success. It is not the story of discipline and determination that takes a person through turbulent days. Rather, Faster Than Lightning is the story of an immensely gifted man who has realised his potential by making a few right decisions and listening to a few good people. And that, I think, is the ultimate take away message.