September 7, 2011 § Leave a comment
Most observers concurred. Bolt wasn’t built like Ben Johnson, nor was he as petulant and broody as Linford Christie. Performance enhancement? He should start by tying his laces. And once the clouds began to disperse, the wonder of what he had achieved was not the three world records, nor the medals, but that the cynics were watching again. Bolt was the redeemer, the man who had brought the fans back to athletics.
Bolt’s celebrity rocketed in the weeks and months that followed. He was IAAF Athlete of the Year, Laureus Sportsman of the Year, and the youngest person ever to receive the Order of Jamaica, the nation’s fourth highest honour. He was invited on the Late Show with David Letterman, went clubbing with Mickey Rourke, replaced Powell on every billboard in Kingston, and was presented with a new BMW by his grateful sponsor, Puma.
His target for 2009 was the World Championships in Berlin. In April, just as he was returning to fitness, he rolled the BMW on a wet Jamaican highway and escaped, miraculously, without a scratch. But there was trouble ahead. In July it was reported that five members of the Jamaican World Championships team — including Bolt’s training partner, Yohan Blake — had returned positive dope tests for methylxanthine, a stimulant. Bolt wasn’t implicated but the headlines were damaging by association: “Bolt training partner fingered in drugs test”; “Bolt: I’m a clean machine”; “Bolt: My pal is OK”; “Bolt is positive about Blake’s negative”. Bolt was competing at a packed Crystal Palace when the story broke: “It’s sad for the sport because things were progressing well,” he told reporters. “This is a step backwards. They will question everybody again now, especially people from Jamaica… It shows that when people get tested they get caught. I’m trying my best to show that you can achieve things clean.”
And what things. Bolt simply dazzled in Berlin with two world records — 19.19 in the 200 metres and 9.58 in the 100 metres — and three gold medals. A year later, in August 2010, a new sponsorship deal with Puma (a four-year contract worth an estimated £21m) made him the highest paid athlete in the history of track and field. A month after that he published his book, My Story: 9.58. There is one standout paragraph. It is this when he takes it? “Yes, you have got to keep records,” Bolt replies. “You have got to make sure that if you take a pill and it’s odd, you have to make sure you remember the name or check the package. I’ll call Ricky and say, ‘Ricky, could you check this out?’ or whatever. Even if I am getting a new vitamin, my coach checks it 150 times to make sure everything is okay.”
His handlers are getting edgy. They want me to quit this line of questioning. My time is limited, but this is important, I insist. An awkward pause ensues. The sponsors are looking at the manager; the manager is looking at me; I am looking at the world’s fastest man. Bolt, predictably, doesn’t have a problem with discussing the issue. “It’s okay,” he says.