Usain Bolt: My Jamaican roots and how I started

Usain Bolt: My Jamaican roots and how I started

Saturday, August 20, 2016 5:20 pm


Usain Bolt

Usain Bolt


By Usain Bolt

Usain Bolt – The Fastest Man in the world. Never, ever do I get tired of hearing that. If you lined up a hundred people and asked them who the best basketball player in the world is, the best footballer, or the best cricketer, it is unlikely they would provide the same answer. But ask any of them, “Who is the best sprinter in the world?” and there is only one answer – Usain Bolt. Why? Because that is what it says on the clock. There can be no dispute or argument. The record books say that over the 100 metres flat race, the true measure of human speed, I’m the fastest person that ever lived, completing the distance as I did at the World Championships in Berlin in 9.58 seconds.

It is said that the population of the earth is 6.8 billion and that approximately 107 billion have lived on this planet since man came into being. It doesn’t get any cooler than knowing you are the fastest of them all.

I chose to be a sprinter, not only because I was the fastest kid in school, but also because I knew that politics couldn’t interfere. In team sports, it can be down to opinion whether you are the best. One coach might think you are good enough for his team, another might not, or the side could be picked on friendship or family ties. But in athletics you are either the fastest or you aren’t – opinion doesn’t come into it.

I chose to be a sprinter, not only because I was the fastest kid in school, but also because I knew that politics couldn’t interfere. In team sports, it can be down to opinion whether you are the best. One coach might think you are good enough for his team, another might not, or the side could be picked on friendship or family ties. But in athletics you are either the fastest or you aren’t – opinion doesn’t come into it.

We had a grass track at the front of Waldensia Primary School which is still there, exactly as it was, with a two foot dip at the end of the straight and when I first raced on it a guy called Ricardo Geddes would beat me. One day the sports coach Devere Nugent bet me a lunch that I could beat Ricardo. I like my food, so it was a big incentive. I won, enjoyed a nice meal and never lost to Ricardo again. Winning that race was my first experience of the thrill of beating your closet rival and from that day on my motto has always been ‘Once I’ve beaten you, you wont beat me again.’ There was quite a sporting rivalry between me and Ricardo and I told him he should keep going with athletics but, like most kids in Jamaica, he wanted to play football which he still does for one of the clubs on the island.

Much as I loved football and cricket, running came so easy to me. Once I got Ricardo out of the way, I was the fastest, not only in school but in the whole parish of Trelawny. And, after a few years in high school when I put my mind in training, I was the quickest junior in Jamaica, then the world.

Usain Bolt's autobiography

Usain Bolt’s autobiography

As I went on to win gold medals and set world records at the Olympics and World Championships, I felt exactly the same about taking on my Jamaican team mate Asafa Powell and the Americans Wallace Spearmon and Tyson Gay as I did about racing against Ricardo Geddes. The aim was the same – to run as fast as you can and get to the line first, whether you are in the highly charged atmosphere of the 91,000 capacity Bird’s Nest stadium in Beljing or on the school field.

Just like at school, I always try to go faster and faster. When I clocked 9.72 seconds to set the world 100m record in New York, I knew I could do better when I ran 9.69 to win gold at the Olympics, I knew there was a lot more to come and now having run 9.58 in Berlin, I believe I can go even faster.

It is possible for me to run 9.4. you can’t be sure when or where but the major competitions are when I take it seriously and shine through. That’s business time and I am not going to let anyone take my titles away so the World championships…

To get from 9.58 to 9.4 will involves a lot of hard work. It will have to be the preface race from the start, through the drive phase to making sure my focus is straight ahead and maintaining my force to the end. I have never been the best starter, but it’s improving and I must stop looking from side to side which is my worst habit. I lose time that way but I cant help it. My coach Glen Mills says he could cure the problem in an instant by putting blinkers on me like they do with race horses.

There is always something that could be better. Even when I think a race has gone well, Coach will say ‘no’ and take me back through it, pointing out the faults. If you run 9.58 you are entitled to think it all came together but Coach tells me the drive phase out of the blocks was too short. I got too tight in the middle and my head was all over the place so there’s room for improvement.

I did believe there is a limit to how fast the human body can run, though and I don’t see how the 100m record can ever go below 9.4., it is impossible to run 9.2, the body isn’t made to go that fast, no matter how hard you train, how good a shape you’re in or how good your technique.
As for the 200 metres, I don’t know what the limit is. My 19.30 in Beijing broke Michael Johnsons record of 19.32 which had stood for 12 years. But I run the corner much more efficiently now, which is why I got the record down to 19.19 at the 2009 world Championships. I dream of being the first man to go under 19 seconds.

Whenever I get stressed by Life: Trelawny, the parish where I was born in north west Jamaica is where I return. It’s quiet, with a slower pace to life. I can chill and nobody bothers me. In Kingston, the Jamaican capital where I live because of my training demands, people are always calling up and coming to see me. That’s good but sometimes you need to get away from it all. In Trelawny I can sit on the veranda outside Mom and Dad’s house, relax and clear my mind. People walk past and say ‘hi’ but that’s it, man. They’ve known me since I was a youngster, so seeing me is no big deal.

I’m a normal human being who can get stressed out once in a while, not about track and field which never worries me but personal things like girls, business and stuff that needs organizing. Back home I’ll stay at Mom and Dad’s in Coxeath near Sherwood Content, go round to Aunty Liliy’s, visit my grandmother and meet up with the guys who were my friends from way back when we played cricket together on the road outside our front door. We would cut a stump from a banana tree for a wicket and you were out if you hit the ball into the cow pen.

We lost a lot of balls in there. The house has a light on the porch and we take a table out and play dominoes until the temperature drops so far that it’s too cold to sit out any longer. Life doesn’t get any simpler.

The school  tracks used by Bolt early in life

The school tracks used by Bolt early in life

Waldensia Primary School Jamaica

I’m still in touch with many of my old teachers from my very first school, Piedmont Basic School as well as Waldensia Primary and William Knibb High School. I started Basic School when I was two and one of the teachers, Mrs Sheron Seirwright, is still there. My Principal at Waldensia, Miss Mamrie Flash, who always looked out for me, helps out there, even though she has retired. My sports coach at William Knibb, Miss Lorma Thorpe, who was like a second mother, is still going strong too. I owe so much to all of them for bringing me up in the right way.

The drive home to Coxeath takes you off the main highway and away into the country along a winding single track road, where somehow nobody crashes into anything coming the other way even though there are so many blind corners and overhanging trees. Trust me, you get used to it. The journey takes you over a narrow bridge which crosses the Martha Brae River, where tourists who venture out that way can be seen drifting along on bamboo rafts. This is what they call Cockpit Country. It has all kinds of plant life, insects and animal species and at its heart, a tropical forest. On occasions when I had to go to work with Dad at the coffee company in Windsor, I hated it because it was deep into the vegetation and you’d get bitten by thousands of mosquitoes – they would never leave you alone.

We had a grass track at the front of Waldensia Primary School which is still there, exactly as it was, with a two foot dip at the end of the straight and when I first raced on it a guy called Ricardo Geddes would beat me. One day the sports coach Devere Nugent bet me a lunch that I could beat Ricardo. I like my food, so it was a big incentive. I won, enjoyed a nice meal and never lost to Ricardo again. Winning that race was my first experience of the thrill of beating your closet rival and from that day on my motto has always been ‘Once I’ve beaten you, you wont beat me again.’

The approach to home takes me past Piedmont and Waldensia and the little athletics track where it all started for me. It’s a tight 250m, not quite properly proportioned oval with an 80cm flat track and that two foot drop towards the finish line. I slipped once on the dirt on the corner during a house race at the age of nine and cried my eyes out. Whenever I look at the bend I cant help cussing.

As a child I was good at all sports especially running, cricket and football. I liked being a goalkeeper and got loads of cuts and bruises from diving around on the stones in the grass making saves. Cricket was the big sport in primary school. I was a fast bowler as well as a number three batsmen. We were too young to use a proper cricket ball but I was lethal with a plastic one and by grade six had learned to swing it through the air which takes some doing.

My early school years were the best time for me, as carefree but if you are naughty you would be disciplined. I was a bit of a prankster in school and would find myself being disciplined a few times. Dada would also stamp his authority at home when necessary and I would run from him. We enjoyed the chase too. If I stepped out of line at anytime I would bear about it. I was lucky to have Mom and Dad in the same house – that has helped me to be balanced…

We actually had a lot of fun in school, like in grade five with Miss Roberts, who had false teeth which were always falling out. Once we went to a nearby sugar factory on a class field trip and when we were giving her trouble, she screamed at us so loudly that her teeth shot out of her mouth and fell down to the bottom of this hill. We couldn’t stop laughing.

My best friend was ‘NJ’. I was known as ‘VJ’ so it seemed natural to pal up with NJ – full name Nugent Walker junior. I don’t know why I was called VJ, but it’s a Jamaican tradition that your parents and relatives call you by a pet name. If anyone calls me VJ rather than Usain you know they are from Trelawny – and if you think that’s odd, my dad’s name is Wellesley yet everybody calls him Gideon. Work that out.

The sports coach at Waldensia, Mr Nugent, who also took us for maths, was good but he could be scary. One day he left us to study our 1 – 15 times tables – not something we were very excited about – so we started playing football round the classroom. Suddenly, as NJ was back pedaling, Mr Nugent came from nowhere and grabbed him, hitting him twice and sending him out. I ran off so fast thinking he was going to get me too that I might have beaten 9.58 that very day. Mr Nugent wasn’t really a beater, though he was more of pincher having perfected a technique where he would sip you hard about the waist. That really hurt sometimes.


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One Comment

  • Jim Brandyberry says:

    The correct spelling is Coxheath, not Coxeath (though British English pronounces it that way).

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