somebody will give you something [tainted with steroids] when you eat," he
says. "I told him, 'Don't order room service, go downstairs and get it
yourself. You can't be too careful.'"
DRIVING IN from
Kingston, Usain Bolt is running late. To say that about the world's fastest man
seems funny for the first two or three hours. But eventually it wears on the TV
crews, the dance troupe, the hotel staff. Everyone grows crabby.
Finally, near 4
p.m., he pulls up. At first it feels all wrong: Music explodes in the lobby,
grown women scream, but as Bolt walks up the steps he's too cool, sunglasses
oddly on the back of his head. Five dancers unleash a tribute—a perfectly
choreographed reprise of the Nuh Linga and the Gully Creeper, the dances that
Bolt performed on the track in Beijing—but his expressionless face gives
nothing away. Someone hands him a drink, and three girls rush to hug him. Now
an earbud has popped out, he looks annoyed....
And it's all a
sham. Bolt wades into the dancers, pauses and then, with perfect timing, begins
writhing and stepping, bent over, arms swinging: a full-on Gully Creeper as the
entire rollicking room seems to tilt. Finally he stops and shoots his
now-signature point: To the World!
Night after night,
in dance halls all over Jamaica, kids are doing Bolt's steps. A campaign is
under way to rename the stadium in nearby Daniel Town after him. Today Bryant
Gumbel has flown in for HBO, three reporters from France wait, and next week
Bolt will fly to New York City for interviews with David Letterman, Kelly Ripa
and Jon Stewart. "I'm just realizing how much I've really done for the
country," Bolt says. "I'm bigger than I thought. I wasn't really
'How can you stay the same?' But I haven't changed; I see no reason to.
Everybody loves the way I am. I was brought up to have a lot of respect for
people. My father is very strict. He brought me up well."
It's early, of
course. Many athletes like to describe themselves as unaffected, open, but it
never lasts. Competition demands ego, ego breeds arrogance, arrogance walks
hand in hand with insecurity: There is always something to prove. Money and
fame? They change everything. But so far Bolt has remained himself. He stops
for every hug and picture, signs every piece of paper waved his way. Lewis's
comments are a different test, but Bolt betrays not a flicker of annoyance.
"In a way [Lewis] has a little point, because over the years everybody who
runs track, most of the guys, have been on drugs," he says. "But it
doesn't matter to me, because when you know you're clean, you don't worry. I've
been working really hard. I know I'm clean."
That Bolt is
uniquely gifted has never been in doubt. When he was younger, the 6'5"
prodigy won races with his head lolling like a rag doll's, with a chain and
crucifix perched on his upper lip. At 12, he ran a 400 in 52 seconds flat. At
16, already the world junior champion, he ran a 20.25 to win the Champs 200 by
a full second; at 17, in 2004, he became the first junior to break the
20-second barrier, in 19.93. Still, until he started training with Glen Mills
that year, he was considered lazy and injury-prone. "Champs was easy for
me," Bolt begins, then pauses and starts laughing, "because I was so
talented." He laughs more. "The Olympics weren't pressure for me
No, somehow it
wasn't. If Asafa Powell is sprinting's model of introversion and doubt, forever
seizing up in the biggest races, Bolt is its easy rider. He was all out there
in Beijing: posing and clowning, chatting up volunteers. Free. It wasn't just
his winning that captivated Jamaicans; it was the utter Jamaicanness of his
performance. Bolt broke the world record in the 100 while celebrating. He
dominated and partied at the same time, combining the national traits of
aggression and ease as few athletes ever have.