As his last world championships approach, the worlds fastest human Usain Bolt was full of his usual confidence as he contemplates Saturdays 100 m final
One by one the stars from sport and screen paid sweet homage to Usain Bolt, each homily more doe-eyed than the last. First Asafa Powell thanked him on behalf of the Jamaican people. Then soapy tributes from Cara Delevingne, Thierry Henry and Virat Kohli were relayed on a giant screen. And when Idris Elba appeared to tell him I am so impressed with you, brother; you are an exemplary athlete and an amazing human being the impression that the Brewery in London was hosting a revivalist session not an athletics press conference was complete. Fortunately Samuel L Jackson turned out to be not only coarser but more heartfelt.
Hey Usain, he said, chuckling away. Thanks for all the thrills, thanks for all the colds. Thanks for being the outstanding dope-ass motherfucker you have always been. The human who has won eight Olympic gold medals, 11 world titles and violated six world records during a glittering career responded to this unbending faith with an appreciative smile, and a humbled reply. It is great to be recognised by great people.
But no one recognised Bolts greatness in what was his last media appearance before the world athletics championships begin in London on Friday more than the events compere Colin Jackson. At one point the former 110 m world record holder told him: You say you are a legend when other athletes do that they sound really arrogant, you dont. How do you do that? At another Jackson are recognizing that come the 100 m final on Saturday, which will be Bolts last individual race before he retires, there may be tears in the stadium, and I may be one of them.
True, Bolts press conferences are always a little quirky. At the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, for instance, he was asked his thoughts on the Palestine question while at the Rio Olympics a Norwegian reporter told Bolt he loved him before rapping at him. But rarely do they start out this sycophantic. Yet when questions were finally let from the hundreds of journalists from around the world, a steelier side to the Jamaican emerged.
For the most part he was playful, intelligent and thoughtful. Yet when he was questioned about perhaps his biggest competitor for 100 m gold, Andre De Grasse, he bared his teeth. It started when the Jamaican was asked who might fill his shoes when he retires. I am not going down that road, he replied. The last guy who I said was going to be great disrespected me. So I am not going to say who is going to be great. To many that was clearly a pointed including references to De Grasse, the young Canadian who won a 100 m bronze and a 200 m silver behind Bolt at last years Olympics and has operated a wind-assisted 9.69 sec this season.
Last year they appeared good friends. However since then De Grasse has upset the Jamaican by saying everyone knows hes slowing down a little bit and by claiming Bolt purposely booted him out of a 100 m race in Monaco because he was too dangerous an opponent. Relations have been the frosty side of Siberian since. When asked about his relationship with De Grasse, Bolt feigned disinterest. I dont know, he said. I consider him around. I say hi. That is it, I guess. I dont know how to describe that. I dont have his telephone number or anything. We just say hi.
Later, when it was put to Bolt that the Canadian might be his biggest challenger in the 100 m final, he simply shrugged his shoulders. The seven people that are going to be in that race with me, he responded. They are my best challengers. The questioner persisted. Where did he insure De Grasses career going in the future? I dont know, he added. In the past he has won a bronze medal, won a silver medal, well see what happens in the future, its all about consistency. Each period he responded the same message came across: this is an athlete desperate not to tarnish his legacy with a defeat in his final major championships.
Yet Bolt rightly believes that he remains the man to beat; and the one the world is likely to be hailing again after the final. Indeed, when a Jamaican journalist dared to ask what would happen if he lost, he shook his head in shock that a fellow countryman would ever contemplate such a thing. I cant believe youre asking me that, he said. We wont have that problem, dont worry about it.
The last 100 m I ran was a 9.95 sec so it demonstrates Im going in the right direction, he continued. Im not fretted. Its a championship, so its about who can keep their nerve. Ive is right there many a time so I know Im ready. Its got to go day, so lets run. The press conference concluded with Bolt being presented with a new pair of purple and gold spikes by his sponsors. My school colourings were purple and thats where it started, he explained. The gold is straightforward Im the golden boy.
Despite his protestations of being an underdog in London, few doubt that he will lose that tag any time soon.
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