Olympic and world champion Usain Bolt has said his chosen sport needs him to win in the face of the damage done to athletics by the Russian doping scandal that has divided sports leaders.
In his last lengthy media appointment before heading to Rio de Janeiro, Bolt spent around two hours over a Jamaican lunch last week in London, discussing his Olympic prospects and the challenges of life. He offered his thoughts on reaching age 30 next month, his injury problems and even attacks by terrorists.
“It is scary. But if you live scared, you don’t live at all. So I try to live my life to the fullest and when it’s my time, it’s my time.”
Bolt recalled being in Munich as news emerged of the truck attack in the French city of Nice on Bastille Day – July 14 – that killed 84 people. Munich was itself the scene of bloodshed last week when a teenager shot dead nine people.
Bolt usually goes to Munich every three months to visit his doctor, Hans-Wilhelm Muller-Wohlfahrt.
“Especially at the start of last year I noticed that injuries take a little bit more time to get back to where you want to be. My coach always tells me that the older you get it’s going to get harder, and you have to push yourself.”
But coach Glenn Mills also offered him the comforting reassurance Bolt still craves, despite being the 100- and 200-metre world record holder.
Bolt remembered Mills telling him, “don’t worry, you’re a champ” at the world championships last year.
It was “one of the roughest years,” Bolt said, explaining how his back issue “has really deteriorated over the years.”
Bolt’s preparations for the defence of his Olympic titles (100, 200 and 4X100-metre relay) have been far from smooth, with a hamstring injury forcing him out of the Jamaican trials.
“I always have little doubts in my mind,” Bolt said in a restaurant overlooking London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral. “But I’m focused and ready to go.” This is very much unlike many of the world’s top golfers, who have snubbed the chance to go to their first Olympics.
“I guess it’s not as important to them as it is to us who have been competing over the years. It surprised me when I heard that golf was going to be in the Olympics. There are a few sports in the Olympics that make me go ‘Argh.”’
The Olympics are unquestionably the pinnacle of track and field. But providing the spectacle desired is proving difficult for the men.
“This year is one of the poorest I have ever seen as an Olympic [field] for men really – the women have really shown more promise running fast times,” Bolt said. “[The men] have really underperformed this season, but I’m sure when we get to the Olympics it won’t be like that.”
Bolt expects Rio to be his last Olympics, but he still dangles the possibility of a trip to Tokyo.
“My coach always says ‘Usain you can always go on to the 2020 Olympics if you want,”’ Bolt said. “So this is why he tells me to stop talking about retirement and just take it a year at a time.”
The power of athletics in attracting big audiences would be more difficult without its global superstar.
“People always say to me, ‘Usain when you leave the sport, the sport is going to go down,”’ Bolt said. “But I’m not going to look at it like that. There are a lot of athletes stepping up.”