Bolt's the man to beat on the tracks

Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt showing he can put on a show off the running track as well as he can on it, sashaying with samba dancers at the City of Arts in Brazil.
Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt showing he can put on a show off the running track as well as he can on it, sashaying with samba dancers at the City of Arts in Brazil.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

RIO DE JANEIRO • Call it the Usain Bolt effect. How else would you explain the queue formed hours before the Team Jamaica press conference on Monday, or a Norwegian journalist proclaiming his love for the track icon with an impromptu rap during the question-and-answer segment?

The Jamaicans have sent 63 athletes in four sports to the Rio Olympics to compete alongside 10,500 of the world's finest physical specimens and sports stars.

But like his rivals on the track, none are able to keep pace with Bolt. American swimmer Michael Phelps may have 19 Olympic titles to his name but when it comes to charisma, confidence and cool, Bolt is gold class.

The six-time Olympic champion strolled onto the stage inside Rio de Janeiro's Cidade das Artes - reportedly South America's largest theatre with 1,780 seats and befitting one of sport's pre-eminent showmen - and paused.

"First of all, you got to clap louder than that," he jokingly told the packed hall.

THE HUMAN SIDE OF A SUPER ATHLETE

I'm more nervous over 200m than anything else. I always get nervous. But 100m is never really as stressful. I know my weakness and where I'm strongest.

USAIN BOLT, Jamaica sprinter, revealing nerves do get to him.

The Rio Games will be Bolt's final outing at the Summer Games and he intends for it to be the grandest of send-offs.

He swept the 100m, 200m and 4x100m golds at Beijing and London and is gunning for an unprecedented "triple-triple" in Brazil, which would cement his status as history's greatest sprinter.

He added: "Championships are what matter for me and that's what I work towards, trying to do my best and I'll be giving my 150 per cent always."

Bolt in full flight on the track is something to behold. The 11-time world champion has clocked five of the top 10 fastest 100m times, four in the 200m and holds the world record for both, 9.58sec and 19.19sec respectively, set at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin.

He continues to challenge our notions of how fast a man can go. One of his few remaining goals is to crack the 19-second barrier in the 200m.

"I really, really, really want that," the Jamaican said. "Something I've always wanted, to run sub-19. Think it's going to be a little hard because I missed out on trials and a few weeks of training, the last part of the season. But you never know. After the 100m rounds, it always helps my 200m so hopefully I can go on and run fast."

He will compete in the 100m heats at the Olympic Stadium on Aug 13 before tackling the 200m three days later. The 4x100m will be on Aug 18.

Yet even Bolt, despite his sometimes superhuman feats, can succumb to human frailties.

He said: "I'm more nervous over 200m than anything else. I always get nervous. But 100m is never really as stressful. I know my weakness and where I'm strongest. For me, it's just all about getting it right.

"But when I get to the 200m, I'm always a little bit nervous, right throughout the rounds, from the day I start right to the finals."

Yet even the world's fastest man cannot outrun Father Time.

Bolt turns 30 on Aug 21, the day the Rio Games' closing ceremony will take place as the curtain falls on a stunning Olympic career.

He is still capable of brilliance - he posted a 19.89sec effort at last month's London Diamond League meet - but a series of hamstring injuries cannot be dismissed. Both his world records were set in 2009.

Asafa Powell, the former 100m world-record holder from 2005 to 2008, believes his team-mate, as he has done throughout his career, will steal the show in Rio.

"He wants to get it over with and go home and enjoy himself. I think he's prepared. He realises that he's getting old, so he knows what to expect."

From his dancing with the samba girls to discussing fitting out his Games Village apartment with a brand-new television, Bolt charmed everyone during the event for Puma, sponsor of the Jamaican track and field team.

That it was held at the Cidade das Artes, or the City of Arts, was not lost on anyone.

After all, this could be Bolt's final Olympic masterpiece.

Jonathan Wong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 10, 2016, with the headline 'Bolt's the man to beat on the tracks'. Print Edition | Subscribe