The fastest man on the planet, the World and Olympic triple gold medallist Usain St Leo Bolt, OJ, CD, is eminently bankable.
This status is testament to the manner in which the World Championships and Olympics record holder in the 100 metres, the 200 metres and the 4 x 100 metres relay, has increased the profile of athletics in the last few years.
“He’s shone a global spotlight on the sport,” said Puma chief executive Jochen Zeitz.
But it seems that it’s not just his Olympic feats that have made Bolt the hottest commodity in athletics.
What then is his appeal? Let’s face it, Bolt admits to preferring his PlayStation to books. He often comes across as one dimensional — no introspection, no particular philosophy, no political insight, no personalised take on history.
When a journalist present at the Golden Gala press conference held in Rome on May 24 asked him what he thought of the city, Bolt said that he has a PlayStation in his room, so it’s all good. What’s more, he usually is just content to pre-phrase his responses to the same old questions from journalists with an “as I said before” then rehashing regurgitated answers.
However, because he is the fastest man on the planet, journalists typically respond by laughing out loudly at everything he says, slapping their thighs to show their enthusiasm at just barely funny comments.
When he’s not burning up the track, Bolt is a normal young man who likes to hang with his friends. In fact, his uptown Kingston house is usually overrun with various comrades loudly playing video games or dominoes to the music of a resident “selector”.
But ponder this: Bolt, with three gold medals, became the man of the Games last Olympic, snatching the title from the unfortunate American Michael Phelps, who won eight gold. Usain Bolt is indeed a marketing dream on two very fast legs.
The very laid-back Bolt, who’s currently sporting a low, barely there Mohawk and just enough muscles, is the guy who has managed to essentially redefine his sport which, just a generation ago, was all amateur. He has brought mainstream appeal to athletics. In fact, his natural-looking musculature and his general aura exudes credibility and accessibility. Bolt, who is routinely targeted for testing, comes up clean every time. He doesn’t complain and seems to be genuinely enjoying the ride, dancing, celebrating and generally bringing island cool to the world’s stadiums. Indeed, his notorious Jamaican je ne sais quoi has enamoured the world and unleashed sponsors from around the globe.
Italian beauties screaming, ‘Usain, marry me!’
In Prague and in Paris, Bolt Deejayed d at the after-parties with the audience too in awe of him or too busy filming to dance to his Blackeye Peas and Vybes Kartel selections, which ended with him showing the lucky Parisian crowd the newest dance moves in Jamaica. Thus he satisfies the international media feeding frenzy which surrounds him.
Indeed, at the Rome Golden Gala, the Bolt mania was in full effect. There were more international journalists at his press conference where he was the only athlete present than there were for the conference featuring Asafa Powell, Fabrizio Donato and French hero Christophe Lemaitre, the first white man to run the 100 metres in under 10 seconds.
After the meet the elated Italian media manager, Marco Sicari informed Bolt and his handlers that the 47,732 enthusiastic spectators present made the meet one of the most successful in recent history. In fact, the last time there were so many people in attendance was over a decade ago to see the great Michael Johnson.
Bolt, by the way, was permanently shadowed by two buffed up bodyguards for his Roman sorties which saw numerous hot-blooded Italian beauties on his heels, many screaming, “Usain, marry me!”
Meanwhile, in the Czech town of Ostrava, gigantic Bolt Posters graced the town, a fitting metaphor for the 6ft 5in Jamaican who now seems larger than life. At the airport, where he boarded a private plane with his Irish agent, his Jamaican manager and a French Puma executive, he was constantly solicited for autographs and photos. And Bolt almost always gracefully delivers.
On July 8 at a meet in Paris before an enthusiastic crowd of 49,174 spectators, Bolt won the 200 metres in 20.03 seconds while clad in a shirt emblazoned with his own picture.
This is some serious Muhammad Ali swag. It is true that many have taken to likening the champion’s antics to that of the three-time World Heavyweight Champion and cultural icon aka “The Greatest”, who floated like a butterfly while stinging like a bee, doing it with camera-friendly, opponent-lashing antics.
Bolt, who was the essence of calm before the race in Paris, laughed and joked, panning to the cameras lingering on him — is every journalist’s dream subject. He went on to dominate most of the race, comfortably holding off local sensation Christophe Lemaitre, then backed off, dropping his arms, jogging down the stretch, despite suffering from a bout of flu.
The emblematic victory “to di worl” Lightning Bolt pose was already right there on his shirt, smugly espousing his chiselled chest. So damn swaggerific.