“This will be the moment, and this will be the year, when I set myself apart from other athletes in the world,” Usain Bolt says in a quiet but dramatic statement of intent. “A lot of legends, a lot of people, have come before me. But this is my time.”
In a candid interview, the 25-year-old deals with the shadows of his recent dips and doubts and the threatening figure of his friend, and now imposing rival, Yohan Blake. Bolt knows if he can overcome all his new challenges, and disappointments over the last year, he can join sport’s most exalted pantheon.
No man has successfully defended his Olympic 100m and 200m titles. Carl Lewis’s name is now in the record books after his second-place finish to Ben Johnson in 1988 was upgraded following the doping scandal which ruined that race forever. But no sprinter has retained his 200m crown - let alone repeated a hat-trick by also winning the 4x100m relay for a second successive time. If Bolt replicates his feats from Beijing, his name will echo alongside near mythic sporting figures like Jesse Owens, Muhammad Ali, Pele and Phelps.
Training in Birmingham as he winds down his preparations, Bolt remains engagingly uncomplicated. “Definitely,” Bolt says. “When you go through a lot it helps because you can say all these things happened for a reason. The key thing to remember is that hard work does pay off in the long run.”
He sounds convinced he is now in the kind of shape that will ensure his victory in both the 100m and 200m finals. “Each training session I’m getting better and better. I have no other duties now, no worries. It’s all about training, eating and sleeping. I have a lot more time and can put a lot more effort into training. I’m feeling better every day. As long as I’m feeling myself, I’m definitely in no doubt I can go to the Olympics and win.”
Footage at last year’s world championship captured Bolt’s angry devastation at being disqualified. Has he found a method to produce that more consistent start? “I’ve actually bought some blocks that we’re going to be using at the Olympics and I’ve been training with them.”
Was Bolt shocked to suffer successive defeats to Blake? “For me, it’s good to have your eyes opened wide. It was extremely good it happened at the trials so I could refocus.”
Bolt has beaten Tyson Gay decisively over the years and it seems striking he should name-check the American alongside Blake. “It’s not going to be him alone. It’s going to be me, Asafa Powell, Tyson, Justin Gatlin [the 2004 100m champion who returned last year from a doping suspension] and all these guys.”
Bolt himself hardly resists the giddy anticipation on 5 August. “If the weather is great, I definitely think it could be the greatest race. We have six guys who, for sure, can run under 9.9 and they should all make the final. So there is no doubt this could go down as the greatest final ever.”