Magic mantra from fastest man ever: Do it for yourself

2016, the Olympic Stadium at Rio de Janeiro
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Published on Dec 01, 2021 12:12 AM IST
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By, New Delhi

2016, the Olympic Stadium at Rio de Janeiro. Usain Bolt smiles to himself and sways to a rhythm in his head, a little jig standing at the top of his lane, waiting for the 200m final to begin. His fellow runners look grimly determined, eyes narrowed, focus written deep on their faces. Bolt looks like he’s come to a party and met some good friends — no one could look more relaxed, languid. Who could have thought looking at him there that he was thinking of breaking his own, near-impossible world record, set in 2009?

The starting gun fired and for a moment, the runners were shoulder to shoulder. Then, a familiar sight — for both his rivals and those watching — the fastest man on the planet, accelerating away without a care in the world, leaving the rest of the pack in a cluster behind him.

Bolt won his eighth and final Olympic gold that night, embellishing a career that already dazzled like no other and completing a hat-trick of 100m-200m sprint doubles at the Olympics. Each of those medals were won with the flamboyance that defined him. Yet, it was not always so. Bolt, too, had to struggle through the pressure of expectations and the nervousness of performing, before working out how to overcome those burdens.

Speaking at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, Bolt said that he developed a mantra: “Put myself first.”

“At a young age, I was very nervous,” he said. “At the World Juniors, in Jamaica, the 200m finals, I was so nervous I put the wrong shoe on the wrong foot. And I still won! I thought, if I can do this in front of my home crowd, with the wrong shoe, maybe I could win anywhere.”

He was 15 at that time, and the attention that came with winning the event came as a “shock”.

“At 15, to be known in my country, people coming up to me asking for pictures, autographs, was a shock,” he said in a session moderated by senior sports journalist Ayaz Memon. “I worried about whether I’ll let my country down, let my family down…

“And then I told myself, you know what, how can I not let myself down? How can I be true to who I am? I figured out that I wanted to do this for myself.”

He was acutely aware of how much people expected from him, how they believed that he would take his junior triumph and turn it into immediate success at the senior level as soon as he was of age. But it didn’t work out that way.

“But it took me a long time to figure it out,” Bolt said. “People started saying ‘oh he was good as a junior but he won’t make it at the senior level’. But I focused on me, I said I won’t listen to the world but I’ll work on myself.”

On himself, but not by himself. Bolt was lucky to be surrounded by people who believed in him and were there for him—his closest friends, his coach and his masseuse.

“We went on a journey together, they were there with me from before I started winning,” Bolt said. “I keep the same set of people around me.”

Yet, as he lined up at the 2007 World Championships, he was not quite there, not quite the man who would set world records that will be deemed unbreakable. In the race, he finished second in the 200m behind American sprinter Tyson Gay.

“I went to my coach and said, ‘I was injury free, I was feeling good, and I ran like never before, but how do I get better?’” Bolt said. “He said, do this, this and this and you’ll be the best. And I did all of those things.”

The next year, Bolt hit his peak and he never came off it till his retirement in 2017. The man who started running for himself was so unrivalled, he only had himself to compete with.

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