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BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME
S.L. PRICE
October 20, 2008
After winning Jamaica's first Olympic gold medals in the 100 meters, sprinters Shelly-Ann Fraser and Usain Bolt returned to a party that is still jumping—from the slums of Kingston to the country roads in Trelawny
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October 20, 2008

Bringing It All Back Home

After winning Jamaica's first Olympic gold medals in the 100 meters, sprinters Shelly-Ann Fraser and Usain Bolt returned to a party that is still jumping—from the slums of Kingston to the country roads in Trelawny

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"Sometimes 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.'"

FRIDAY, SEPT. 19

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 expecting this.

"People ask, '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 either."

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.

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