The nuts and Bolts of the world’s fastest man

The most famous false start in sprinting history and other stories about the world’s fastest man: ANTON RIPPON on why a biography of Usain Bolt is a must-read

Before the Beijing Olympics, few people outside the ranks of committed track and field fans and the sport’s specialist writers had heard of Usain Bolt.

One person very much in-the-know was Steven Downes, former editor of Athletics Weekly, who had been following Bolt’s fortunes since a rainy day in the Canadian town of Sherbrooke (no, I hadn’t heard if it either) when Downes interviewed the then 16-year-old at the world youth championships. Downes already knew that he was talking to a sporting legend in the making. Not least because an IAAF senior official had told him: “He’s really very special.”

Usain Bolt: Hitting rock bottom

So it follows that Downes, an award-winning writer who is the co-author of the acclaimed athletics book Running Scared, would be a good choice to write the biography of one of the five most famous sportsmen on the planet.

So we have Usain Bolt: The Story of the World’s Fastest Man in which Downes paints a vivid picture of the man whose attraction is such that more than 1 million people applied for tickets to watch him run a race that will be over in less than 10 seconds – the 100 metres final at the 2012 Olympics.

The rest of us became aware of Bolt at the 2008 Beijing Olympics when he achieved a unique feat: gold medals in the 100, 200 metres, and sprint relay, all in world record times. We became fascinated not only by the gangling Jamaican’s running prowess but also by his pre-race antics. A year later, Bolt – as Downes points out, could there have ever been a better-named sprint champion? – won both individual sprints, again with world record-breaking performances, at the world championships in Berlin. He became the first man to hold Olympic and world titles for the 100 and 200 metres at the same time.

Then, of course, came The Most Famous False Start In History at this year’s world championships in Daegu. For those who may have been stuck in a lift at the time, Bolt was disqualified from the 100m – his Blue Riband event – but collected his emotions sufficiently to win the 200m.

In a way, it was like Don Bradman getting bowled for a duck in his final Test innings and failing to establish a career Test average of 100 runs. It was a flaw that enhanced the legend.

Downes, who edits the SJA website in his spare time, dissects Bolt’s he’s-only human-after-all moment and the repercussions. He puts Bolt’s life (not just his athletics career) in perfect context and produces a fascinating, informative book that I read at one sitting.

It’s a must for anyone who has ever heard of Usain Bolt. And that means most of the planet. Blimey, think of the royalties.

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