Usain Bolt sits in the middle of a sprawling hotel room on a lazy Sunday afternoon, the world’s fastest man a long-legged study in stillness and calm. His eyes are hidden by dark glasses and he seems very serious, with so little time left before this week’s world championships in Moscow.
His status as the world’s most famous and cherished sportsman remains strong. The track, however, is a much darker place now. Last month, close friend Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay of the US tested positive for banned substances. In Jamaica, five men and women have failed drug tests. Bolt’s name has featured in the debate, but he was blunt in London last month: “I know I’m clean.”
Bolt’s competition here will be limited. No Powell. No Gay. No Blake (injury). “I know I’ve not only got to win. All these guys are missing, so I’ve got to run real fast to settle any doubts.”
World record fast? “Yes, I’d like to do something special in Moscow. Of course, it depends on the track, the weather, everything but if I get my technique right, and a good start, anything is possible. I want to run fast and show the world again what I can do.”
In Bolt’s mind, the best way he can answer the bleak allegations surrounding sprinting is by becoming more dominant, running still quicker. Some lesser athletes might feel it would be better just to win rather than fuel more attention. But Bolt does not look like a man about to wilt beneath the burden of carrying a soiled sport on his back. Bolt wants to win a third consecutive hat-trick of Olympic gold medals in Rio too.
Does he discuss the prospect of breaking more world records with coach Glen Mills? “We focus less on times than winning. Since I told him I want to go to Rio and win another three gold medals our target has become very clear.” He drawls softly: “To win three in Rio would mean I am with legends like Muhammad Ali and Pele. That’s why I’m ready to work so hard and make all the sacrifices of a clean athlete. I can do it.”
Bolt and Mills are aware his one invisible opponent is Father Time. “It’s going to be tough. Some of these guys, like Yohan Blake, will be in their prime at 26 but we’ll work hard to make sure I can do it.”
Has his body begun to feel the strain? “A little bit, but it’s more to do with things like going out. I could go out and train the next day a few years ago. Not now. I need to control my training. I have to put up with ice baths. I take them after training and it’s painful but I do what I’ve got to do.”
He is all set for Moscow with the 100m heats scheduled on Saturday and the final on Sunday. “I’m ready to do it,” he says, “like always.”