Usain Bolt at London Olympics: ‘My aim now is to become a legend’

July 26, 2012

One of the most exciting athletes from the Beijing Games enters these Olympics as one of the most curious. Despite weeks of questions and concerns, Usain Bolt says he’s feeling fine and looking forward to a Summer Games that he hopes will seal his status as an Olympic legend.

The famous sprinter finished second in the 100- and 200-meter races at the Jamaican Olympic trials. He bowed out of a meet last weekend to rest his hamstring. And his training in England has been closed to any outsiders. The mounting mystery — coupled with the emergence of his countryman Yohan Blake — has cast some doubt on Bolt’s ability to repeat at these Olympics in his signature races.

“I’m ready to go,” Bolt said Thursday, meeting with reporters for the first time in London. “I came to the camp today and I could feel that chill. That’s a good vibe, so I’m happy.”

Bolt said the aggravated hamstring that kept him out of a Diamond League meet last weekend in Monaco was sparked by stiffness in his back. Neither is apparently a problem now.

“Now I’m great,” he said. “I’ve been training great for the past 21 / 2 weeks. Everything’s coming together.”

Bolt will be Jamaica’s flag bearer at Friday’s Opening Ceremonies and is scheduled to compete in the men’s 100 meters on Aug. 5 and the 200 on Aug. 9.

Still operating on island time, Bolt appeared at the Jamaican national team’s news conference nearly 45 minutes late Thursday afternoon. With heavy reggae beats filling the industrial warehouse near the city center, Bolt took a seat at the front of the room wearing a yellow hat that featured the letters “U” and “B.” More than 300 reporters listened as Bolt repeatedly said he’s feeling okay, reiterating what he feels is at stake in London.

“My aim now is to become a legend,” he said, “and that’s what I’m working towards.”

Only Carl Lewis has managed to win gold in the 100 in back-to-back Olympics, and no sprinter has ever repeated in the 200. Standing in Bolt’s way is Blake, who bested the world record-holder twice at the trials in Kingston. Blake also won the world championship a year ago, after Bolt was disqualified for a false start.

“I’ve learned not to worry about the start any more,” Bolt said Thursday. “I sat down and talked to my coach and came up with the conclusion . . . that I was never a good starter, I’ll never be a good starter. So I should get past that and just focus on running.”

Bolt has still run two of this year’s three fastest 100-meter times: a 9.76-second finish in May and a 9.79 last month. Still, it’s Blake’s 9.75 at the trials that has had the track world abuzz. Blake followed it two days later by winning the 200 in 19.8 seconds, topping Bolt by three-hundredths of a second.

The times mean that Bolt might still be the most famous and accomplished sprinter in the world, but thus far, he’s not the year’s best. He says he’s trying to approach these Olympics similarly to how he entered Beijing: with a calm, focused head and big expectations. Still, he concedes a lot has changed in four years.

“It’s a little bit more pressure because now everybody wants to see a win,” he said.

Bolt has continued to train with Blake and says any secrecy surrounding his training was simply his coach’s efforts to keep the runner focused.

“He likes to keep attention away from me,” Bolt said.

But even Bolt can’t run fast enough to evade the spotlight. While winning in 2008 made him a star, repeating four years later, he hopes, will make him an unparalleled Olympic icon.

Rick Maese is a sports reporter for The Washington Post.
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