Usain Bolt is ready to roll, by Cathal Dennehy
By Cathal Dennehy
Healthier, happier, and a whole lot fitter than he was this time last year, the world’s fastest man is once again relishing the chance to prove it.
Usain Bolt showed up in the Bahamas ahead of this weekend’s IAAF World Relays and sounded every bit the cool, confident and polished talker we have come to expect. The question, though, was how fit the 28-year-old is now, having missed most of 2014 through injury and being usurped at the head of the world rankings by American Justin Gatlin.
“I’m happy,” said Bolt. “I’m able to push myself in training again and work hard. In February I started feeling better and my confidence started getting better.”
A fortnight ago, Bolt ran his first 100m of the season in Rio de Janeiro, taking a facile win in 10.12 seconds. For the man who holds the world record at 9.58 seconds, it was a welcome, if slightly underwhelming, return to racing.
“It’s always a little bit stressful just training and trying to get back into shape, but it comes with the territory in the sport of track and field,” he said. “I trained after I got the surgery, but training and competing are two different things. My coach is happy, so all I need right now is to get the races in.”
The campaign to retain his world titles later this year will continue this weekend, with Bolt slated to compete in both the 4x100m and 4x200m. “To start competing early and get the races in is very good leading up to the championships,” he says. “Relays are one of my favourite things to do. It’s going to be a great showdown.”
The clash he speaks about, of course, is the one that will see Jamaica go head-to-head with the United States over 4x100m; the American team includes two of Bolt’s closest rivals, Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay, both of whom have been previously banned for doping.
Last week, Bolt spoke out strongly about Gay’s reduced doping ban, saying it was the “stupidest thing I’ve ever heard” and the 28-year-old stood over his criticism today, but added that he has no issue with Justin Gatlin’s presence on the track.
“It’s sending the wrong message,” he said of Gay’s one-year ban, which was reduced from two years for co-operating with investigations. “With Justin Gatlin, he’s served his ban and for me it’s not an issue.”
Bolt did, however, say he is relishing the thought of lining up alongside Gatlin later this season. “He talks a lot and says a lot, so I’m looking forward to it.”
In reality, it’s not so much competitors, but injuries, that have posed the biggest threat to Bolt’s dominance, and avoiding them will be his priority this season. “I try to see my doctor every three months to keep everything in line,” he says. “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. It’s all about trying to stay injury-free. Last year I didn’t take the niggles too seriously, but now everything that pops up I want to take care of it.”
Bolt has even cracked down on his notorious fast food habit, aware that he will need to give himself every possible advantage if he is to return to his best. “I’ve really tried to stay as disciplined as possible,” he says. “I went to Europe the other day and had some KFC, but that was my one cheat day, so it was okay.”
And as for nights out? “It’s so limited right now. I try to limit myself as much as possible but I try to have a normal life.”
For a man as famous as Bolt, that’s difficult, but he is intent that despite all the past glories, his best days, and indeed his fastest times, are ahead of him. “I think I can get to that level again,” he says.
“The more I run, the better I feel. I’m not worried about this season. I have three months to go ’til the [world] championships. I’m only worried about that. I’m going to try and get through the season injury-free, take my time, work my way to the goal and I’ll be alright.”
And if all goes to plan, that approach may even take him back to more world records.
“I set the bar high for myself,” he says, “and now I have to surpass that.”â€ª
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