If one wants to truly understand, perhaps, it would be more precise to say, truly appreciate the stature of Usain Bolt, then, may I suggest one attempt to go to a press conference for Monsieur Bolt, held several days before a major Diamond League meeting.
Usain Bolt, photo by PhotoRun.net
The crowd is overwhelming, as sports writers from all the local papers, blogs, websites, plus radio, Television become athletics fans. Usain Bolt has the ability to draw like no one else in our sport, and perhaps only athletes like David Beckham come to mind, or perhaps a Lebron James. For the press officer, such an exercise is similar to herding cats: control is an illusion.
Bolt holds court. He is patient, keeps a sense of humor and is an observer in the crazy hour to ninety minutes that the cavalcade of insanity takes to build and end. Questions of no athletic or earthly value are common, and drug questions always come up. For the most part, Usain Bolt understands that this is the price of being the biggest athlete in the sport of track & field.
The issue is, Bolt transcends track & field. He is loved, well-liked, adored, you name it, because he has the ability to compete hard, and also have fun. He does not take himself too seriously. I have watched Bolt sign autographs of young kids on a coo, clear night in Stockholm and also hang out in the London stadium last year. He enjoys the crowd, his people.
The sad thing is, while brands like VISA, Nissan and others virtually print money from sponsoring Bolt, some brands struggle. PUMA has had Usain Bolt as a sponsored athlete since he was eighteen, and yet, they do not seem to appreciate how to promote or gain brand awareness from the Lightning Bolt. A recent WSJ article suggested that PUMA had not seen the return from the great sprinter that they had hoped. Well, that is not the athletes' fault. Normally, brand expectations are either too large, too small or poorly executed.
Bolt on social media, sponsoring a good cause through PUMA, gives PUMA a consumer who is not only a fan of Bolts, but desires to make a point with their consumer purchasing. As Bolt is not the typical athlete, his fans and brand worshipers are not the typical consumers.
A reported $29 plus million four year contract, Mr.Bolt works hard for his money. But, social media, or a coaching clinic, the public sees Usain Bolt as real. Bolt is track & field. But as he knows, and other brand marketers should know, Usain Bolt is what he is because he is a track athlete. Look at Tyson Gay, Aries Merritt, Sanya Richards-Ross, Jessica Ennis-the superstars of the sport. They are followed on social media because fans see them as real, and love the interaction.
The Diamond League meets are a sell out, or near sell outs in most venues in 2013. The meets have been highly competitive, and when the sprinters are there: Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell, Yohan Blake, Tyson Gay, Justin Gatlin, and the big men (throws), middle distance and distance runners, there is something for everyone.
Twenty years ago, when Carl Lewis and the Santa Monica Track Club marched around Europe, filling up stadiums and taking the majority of meet director's budgets, Lewis was adored, but not in the same way as Usain Bolt.
Kids get Bolt, parents like him, and so do marketers.
Usain Bolt is the glass half full for track and field. Figure out who Bolt brings to the sport, and figure out how to reach new sponsors and fans heretofore thought unattainable for athletics.
Press Conference for Meeting AREVA, Stade de France, 2 July 2013
Usain Bolt: "I need some top-class races and
I'm likely to find one at the MEETING AREVA"
Usain Bolt is in Paris. The Jamaican set foot in the French capital on Tuesday 2 July, having travelled from Kingston, after a short stopover in London. Having only just arrived, he overcame his travel fatigue to answer questions from the wealth of media, who had come along to meet him at the invitation of Areva, title partner to the French stage of the Diamond League, which is due to take place in the Stade de France on Saturday 6 July. A MEETING AREVA 2013 at which the six-time champion will be the main attraction. Laurent Boquillet, the meeting's director, comments that "Usain Bolt's presence is easy to put a figure to: he draws in an additional 10,000 spectators. On Saturday evening, the front two sections of the Stade de France will be full to bursting. More than 50,000 people."
Usain Bolt is also credited with being the star of the evening, over 200m, one of the classiest events of the meeting. However, he won't be the only contender for this accolade in a MEETING AREVA where the participation is more sophisticated than ever. Proof of this comes with the presence, among other great names, of Christophe Lemaitre (200m), Kirani James (400m), Bernard Lagat (1,500m), Aries Merritt (110m hurdles), Ezequiel Kemboi and Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad (3,000m steeplechase), Renaud Lavillenie (pole vault), Robert Harting (discus), Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (100m), Tirunesh Dibaba (5,000m), Blanka Vlasic and Ana Chicherova (high jump) and Valerie Adams (shot put).
INTERVIEW - USAIN BOLT
Q. Usain, how do you feel?
Usain Bolt: Tired as it's been a long trip. But I'm in really great shape. I'm feeling better and better with every competition. I'm hoping for a very good race in the 200m on Saturday evening at the Stade de France. With the World Championships approaching, I need some top-class races, to find out where I'm at so as I can place myself in relation to the others and, most importantly, in relation to myself.
Q.How do you rate your season up till now?
Usain Bolt: My first race was not so great. I was lacking energy. But I experienced a similar start to the season last year, before going on to be successful at the London Games. As such, I see it as a sign. Since then I've been pretty happy with my performances in the Jamaican trials. In the 100, the second part of the race, the last 60 metres, was good. The first 40 was a little less good, but I'm going to work on this section of the race. The trials have given me confidence for the next element of the season. And I know that I'm feeling better and better with every performance. Competition fires up my motivation again and enables me to get into a rhythm.
Q. Have you been spared of injury?
Usain Bolt: For now, yes. Injury is part and parcel of this sport. I know that and I've learnt it at my expense. But I've also learnt to guard against it. Today, I'm wiser than I was in my early days. I've understood that my body needed more attention, that it wasn't responding the way it used to. I don't allow myself certain things that I permitted in the past.
Q. After winning it all, what can you expect for the next stage of your career?
Usain Bolt: I want to dominate sprinting until the Rio Games. To dominate the competition, remain the best despite all these young, ambitious sprinters appearing on the scene, all wanting to beat me. I remember asking Michael Johnson, the year he retired from sport, what he thought of his career. He explained to me his pride at having been able to dominate his sport all the way to the end. My objective is the same.
Q. Do you still feel capable of beating your world records?
Usain Bolt: In major competition, perhaps. Last year, after the London Games, I explained that my aim for 2013 was to get all my speed back. I've worked towards that aim. I know that it's easier to break a world record in a World Championship due to the high stakes, the motivation and the track. I can still do it.
Q. Do you consider yourself to be invincible?
Usain Bolt: No. I've never pretended to be. In a race, anyone can be beaten. However, I know that when I'm at the top of my game, in a major final, it's very, very hard to beat me.
Q. Jamaican athletics has just been shaken up by the positive dope test by Veronica Campbell-Brown. What do you think about it? Are you clean yourself?
Usain Bolt: I can't speak for the others, but on a personal level, yes, I'm clean. I always have been. I don't mind being tested any time at all, as often as is needed... except at 6 o'clock in the morning! (laughs). I'm also in favour of the idea put forward by my coach Glen Mills, to set up a laboratory in Jamaica.
Q. Have you had any news from Yohan Blake and his participation in the Moscow Worlds?
Usain Bolt: Yes, I've had some recent news. I'm going to keep it to myself though. It's not down to me to divulge such things.
Q. You're going to come up against Christophe Lemaitre at the MEETING AREVA on Saturday evening. What do you think of him?
Usain Bolt: I haven't really been following his season up till now. I do know that he's beaten Justin Gatlin though. He performs well. I'm not in the habit of focusing on one adversary in particular though. In sprinting, you have to keep an eye on everyone.
Q. How do you react when you learn that your presence alone at the MEETING AREVA attracts 10,000 additional spectators?
Usain Bolt:I've got used to it. In my early days, it was hard to get my head around the phenomenon. Over the years though, I've seen more and more people coming to stadiums to see me run. Today, I know that I draw in the crowds and so much the better.
Q. Which athlete appears to you to be the most dangerous with a view to the 200m in the World Championships in Moscow?
Usain Bolt: My seven rivals in the final will be dangerous. They're all going to be very quick and all of them will be keen to beat me. Tyson (Gay) has run well this season. And the youngsters, Warren Weir and Nickel Ashmeade, are making progress.
Q. What is it today that still drives Usain Bolt forward?
Usain Bolt: I like competition. I still get just as much of a kick out of it. The more I run in competition, the more I want to surpass myself. My challenge over the next three years will be to go right to the end of the Olympiad whilst remaining at the top. To achieve that, I'm going to have to maintain the same level of performance season after season. I'm ready for it though. I'm working towards that every single day.
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