Sprinter Usain Bolt Looks Forward to New Season, Challenge From Tyson Gay
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Usain Bolt returns to the track tonight in Toronto surely entitled to bask in the glow of his memorable Olympic victories and an honor just bestowed yesterday -- Bolt beat out Michael Phelps and others to win the 2008 Laureus World Sportsman of the Year award.
Yet Bolt, 22, seemed more excited by his future than what he would see in his rearview mirror (if he still had one; he totaled his black BMW several weeks ago in his native Jamaica).
He lumped that accident, which he walked away from with only scratches, as a low point in what he called an "up and down" offseason that he is eager to conclude. He said during a conference call moments after accepting the award from track legend Michael Johnson that he intends to return to top form in time for the world championships in Berlin in August while eagerly taking on a challenge from rejuvenated U.S. sprinter Tyson Gay.
"I've been to so much places and been to so much functions," said Bolt, who will compete in a 100-meter race at the University of Toronto's Festival of Excellence meet. "I've been in a car accident that put me out for a while. It's been up and down for me. Every time I miss a few days, it's hard. You feel like you're starting from scratch again."
Since setting world records in the 100 and 200 meters and as part of the 4x100 relay team at the Beijing Olympics, Bolt said, he can no longer go around town in Kingston, Jamaica, like he used to -- in fact, he said, he can hardly go out at all. But he has gotten back to the hard work of training. He is tackling, he said, his starts, speed and endurance with longtime coach Glenn Mills, who lays out his daily schedule. Not much has changed on the track. Though he might consider taking on the 200-400 double in the future, Bolt said he plans to stick to the 100 and 200 for now.
"In the long run, I might go up to the 400 meters," he said. "Right now, I'm not really worried about it."
There have been other worries; the requirements of being a star have been nothing short of exhausting. He threw out the first pitch at a Yankees-Red Sox game; drove a Ferrari around Monaco; appeared on "The Late Show with David Letterman"; and competed in a gimmick race in the streets of Manchester, England, where he set a world record in the rarely run 150 meters with his finish in 14.35 seconds. With other shows, sponsor obligations and honors to collect, he has been challenged to show the same carefree spirit that enchanted the world last summer.
Then, he boasted of eating chicken nuggets before his Olympic races. He danced before, during and after the Olympic 100. And he cracked to Letterman about his showboating at the finish that "actually, I was trying to fly but it didn't work."
"My life has been very busy and up and down and stuff, but I'm still trying to stay the same: laid-back and stuff," Bolt said yesterday. "I really am just trying to be me."
On a rainy day in late April, he rolled over the BMW given to him by Puma after the Olympics, driving the car into a ditch. He crawled out and suffered only scratches from stepping on thorns around the overturned vehicle.
"When I got out of the car, I could walk," he said. "I didn't feel any broken bones. I went to the hospital and was okay."
Now, he wants to run. The car accident forced him to cancel a scheduled appearance at the Jamaica International Invitational earlier this month. Besides the Manchester stunt, his only race since the Olympics was a 100-meter race March 14 in Spanish Town, Jamaica. There, he ran an average 9.93 seconds with a strong tail wind (2.3 meters per second).
"I will be interested to see how he handles his new status as a global star," said Johnson, who held the 200 world record (19.32 seconds) before Bolt broke it last year (19.30). "He'll go into this season being a target."
Already gunning for him is Gay, the sprinter whose Olympics was marred by an injured hamstring. In a meet in New York just less than two weeks ago, Gay ran the third-fastest time ever in the 200 (19.58), hinting that he will be ready to take on Bolt this summer.
"I certainly think Tyson Gay can compete with Bolt; I think he's proven that," Johnson said moments before Bolt spoke on the call. "I think it's going to be one of the more interesting matchups at the world championships."
For Bolt, so used to winning races with his challengers left far behind, a real rival would be welcome. However, it's unclear whether the two will face each other before Berlin.
"He knows what he needs to do to beat me or give me serious competition," Bolt said. "I'm definitely looking forward to meeting him this season."