Usain Bolt was born on August 21, 1986 in Sherwood Content in the Trelawny section of Jamaica. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) His parents, Jennifer and Wellesley, owned a small grocery store. Usain, his brother Sadeeki and sister Shrine helped them run the business.
Usain was obsessed with sports. He showed great promise as a sprinter at an early age. As a primary school student, he began entering regional races. By his 12th brithday, he had established himself as one of the fastest sprinters in the area.
Usain continued his develoment under the tutelage of Pablo McNeil and Dwayne Narrett. After enrolling at Knibb High School, he won his first prep medal at the age of 14, taking silver in the 200 meters in 22.04 seconds. Although Usain was not always serious about his training, his size, speed and strength kept him moving up the ranks of the nation’s elite sprinting prospects.
Usain was at the right place in Knibb. The school had a reputation for channeling gifted athletes into national programs. Sprinter Michael Green was among the school’s more illustrious grads.
But the fact that Usain was even mentioned in the same sentence as a sprinter like Green was surprising to many. As a young child, he had passed the warm days playing soccer and cricket. Usain was an especially good bowler. One of his first sports idols was Waqar Younis, an internationally renowned Pakistani cricket star. Even as he started his sprinting career at Knibb, Usain still focused his athletic attention on cricket. Recognizing the teenager’s blinding speed, his cricket coach encouraged him to give track a serious look.
In 2001, Usain competed in his first major event, representing Jamaica in a Caribbean regional meet called the CARIFTA Games. He ran the 400 meters in a personal-best 48.28 seconds and the 200 meters in 21.81. He finished second in both races. Later that year, Usain appeared in his first true international meet, the IAAF World Youth Championships. He and his teammates traveled to Hungary, where he set a new personal best in the 200 of 21.73 seconds.
As Usain’s star grew brighter so did the controversy surrounding him. Known as a practical joker, he disappeared during trials for the 2002 CARIFTA Games, hiding in the back of a van. He was eventually discovered by police. Sports fans howled that McNeil couldn't control the boy. In time, Usain would be moved to Kingston so he could train under the more watchful eye of the Jamaica Amateur Athletic Association (JAAA) at the University of Technology. The request came directly from Prime Minister P. J. Patterson.
In the interim, Usain smashed CARIFTA’s championship records in the 200 meters and 400 meters. He then bettered those marks at the 2002 Central American and Caribbean Junior Championships. At the 2002 World Junior Championships in Kingston, Usain lowered his personal-best 200 time to 20.61 seconds, becoming history’s youngest world junior champion in that event. He was also part of teams that set national records in the 4 x 100 and 4 x 400 relays.
Usain was only 15, but he was already close to his adult height of 6-5. He literally stood out among the other boys, long before the starter's gun sounded. Though still a precocious teenager, he was now his country’s most recognized superstar athlete.
At the 2003 World Youth Championships, Usain continued to smash records, including a time of 20.40 seconds in the 200 meters—in the face of a headwind. At the Pan-American Junior Championships, he tied the world junior record of 20.13 in the 200, equaling the mark set by Roy Martin. In his final meet as a high schooler, he shattered the national prep marks for the 200 and 400 by a half-second and second, respectively.
ON THE RISE
Usain’s prowess as a sprinter started garnering comparisons to Americans Michael Johnson and Maurice Green. Johnson himself predicted great things for Usain. Like many in the sport, however, he was concerned about the teenager’s wavering focus. The move to Kingston had helped Usain ’s times, but the temptations of the capital city often divided his attention. His coaches were apoplectic when they spotted him playing pickup basketball or stuffing his face with fast food. And stories of his high-spirited nightclub romps were regular items in the local papers.
Usain looked to move up to senior competition toward the end of the 2003 season, qualifying for the World Track & Field Championships in Paris in the 200 meters. However, he developed conjunctivitis and was pulled by the Jamaican team. Next on his radar was a trip to the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
Though technically still a “junior,” Usain declared himself a professional in ’04 at the age of 17. At the CARIFTA Games in Bermuda, he ran the 200 meters in under 20 seconds. That performance earned him a spot on the Jamaican Olympic Team, despite a balky hamstring. He was eliminated in the first round of the 200 when he failed to break 21 seconds.
Usain continued to train at the relatively primitive University of Technology facility. He switched coaches from Fitz Coleman to Glen Mills. His manager was Norman Peart. With Mills overseeing his training and the sting of Olympic failure still fresh in his mind, Usain started to become more serious about his craft. He worked out with accomplished sprinters Kim Collins and Dwain Chambers, saw their level of professionalism and got greater insight into the mindset of a champion.
Heading into the 2005 World Championships, Usain was looking sharp. He had just broken 20 second in the 200 meters in London. But in the finals in Helsinki, he pulled up with an injury and finished in last place. As the season concluded, Usain was ranked among the top sprinters in the world, yet questions about his dedication lingered. Now his durability was in question, too. It was a lot for a teenager to process. A November car accident added another blemish to his record.
As the calendar turned to 2006, Usain’s team decided to stretch him out and begin running more distance sprints. They hoped to make the 400 meters his specialty by the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Those plans were put on hold when Usain’s hamstring started bothering him. Focusing solely on the 200 meters in 2006, he set a new personal best with a 19.88 at the Grand Prix in Lausanne. Even so, he finished third.
A short time later, Usain won his first major international medal—a bronze—at the IAAF World Athletics final in Stuttgart. He then took silver at the IAAF World Cup in Athens with a time of 19.96 seconds.
After 2006, plans to tackle the 400 meters resumed, but Usain also wanted to try the 100 meters. Mills made a deal with his young pupil. If he could break the Jamaican record in the 200, he would let him run the 100. It was a trick, of course. That record had been set by Don Quarrie in 1971 and remained unbroken through several generations of sprinters. Usain shocked his coach by beating Quarrie’s record early in 2007 by more than a tenth of a second with a 19.75.
The first time Usain competed against an international field in the 100 meters, he won a gold medal at a meet in Crete with a time of 10.03. The long, powerful strides that propelled him through the 200 made him a great finisher in the 100. Usain was also showing better balance, which helped in the 200.
At the World Championships in Japan, Usain won a silver medal in the 200 meters. He also teamed with Asafa Powell, Marvin Anderson, and Nesta Carter in the 4 x100 relay and shattered the Jamaican record witha time of 37.89 seconds. The Jamaicans, however, were nipped at the finish by the Americans. Usain had come as close as he would to gold in the ’07 season’s major events.
The 2008 season began with an eye-opening time of 9.76 seconds by Usain in the 100 meters during a meet in Jamaica. Only one other human—his teammate Powell—had ever recorded a faster time. Michael Johnson was in the stands and stated that Usain’s improvement from the previous was incredible. Tyson Gay, one of Usain’s rivals in this event, concurred.
A few weeks later, Usain shocked the track world again. This time the venue was in New York City, at the Reebok Grand Prix. He ran a 9.72 in the 100 meters to establish a new world record in just his fifth event at this distance. Right before the race there was a violent thunderstorm. Some began calling Usain “Lightning Bolt.” His sponsor, Puma, built a whole marketing campaign around this idea.
Gay, who finished second in New York, marveled at Usain’s stride and size. Track fans started buzzing about an Olympic showdown between the two sprinters, but it was not to be. Gay injured his hamstring during the Olympic trials and did not race in Beijing.
With his sudden success in the 100 meters, Usain abandoned plans to compete in the 400 in Beijing. As for the 200, he was reaching for the stars. At a June meet in Athens, he won with a time of 19.67 seconds.
MAKING HIS MARK
The 2008 Olympics turned out to be the Usain’s coming-out party While Michael Phelps ruled the pool and drew more than a billion viewers to their TVs, it was Usain who truly electrified audiences. Even before his races started, there was something otherworldly about him. He towered over his opponents—it almost seemed unfair that they should race with him.
In the 100 meters qualifying, Usain ran 9.92 in the quarterfinals and 9.85 in the semis. In the final, he blew everyone away, racing to a new world record of 9.69 seconds. The silver medalist, Richard Thompson, was two-tenths of a second behind. Usain actually slowed down before breaking the tape and started celebrating by thumping his chest. IOC President Jacques Rogge wasn’t thrilled by the move, stating that it was disrespectful.
Some say Usain could have cracked the 9.5 barrier had he continued to accelerate through the finish line—9.6 would have been more likely. Nevertheless, it was a truly dominant performance in every way.
Usain next set his sight on equaling Carl Lewis’s feat of winning gold in the 100 meters and 200 mters in the same Olympics. He also hoped to crack Michael Johnson’s world record of 19.32 in the 200, set during the 1996 Summer Games. Usain was so good in the preliminaries that he jogged across the finish line. In the final, he broke the tape at 19.30 to become the new world record-holder. Afterward the PA system played "Happy Birthday." Usain would turn 22 the following day.
Two days later, Usain ran the third leg of the 4 x 100. The Jamaicans sprinted to victory, and Usain copped his third gold of the Summer Games. He, Carter, Michael Frater, and Powell set a new Olympic record with a time of 37.10 seconds.
Usain put an exclamation point on his historic 2008 season by turning in time of a 19.63 seconds in the 200 meters at the Super Grand Prix final in Lausanne. At the Golden League final in Brussels a few days later, he faced Powell in a 100 final for the first time since the Olympics. Both smashed the track record, with Usain barely edging his countryman with a 9.77. The win was doubly impressive because of a sluggish start. Usain had to make up a lot of ground under less-than-ideal temperature conditions to overtake Powell. A few weeks later, Usain was named IAAF Male Athlete of the Year.
In 2009, Usain began rethinking his stance on the 400 meters. He won two races at this distance in Jamaica, logging a very respectable 45.54 seconds in one of the victories. Later in the year, Usain won an unusual 150-meter event at the Manchester Great City Games. His time of 14.35 seconds set a new world record. Afterward, he met with one of his favorite soccer players, Cristiano Ronaldo.
Usain also qualified for the World Championships in the 100 meters and 200 meters by winning both events at the Jamaican National Championships. His time in the 100 was a sparkling 9.86. In the run-up to the season’s grand event, Usain turned in times of 19.59 in the 200 (on a wet track) and a 9.79 in the 100. Later he claimed to be only 85 percent of where he thought he could be in Berlin.
Usain proved prophetic. Running through the tape in the 100 meters in the World Championships, he obliterated the word record at 9.58 seconds. Usain’s time was nearly impossible to comprehend. It reflected the biggest change in the world record since electronic timing was introduced in 1968. Gay finished a distant second, while third place went to Powell, who said simply, "Awesome." A week later, Usain was at it again, this time setting a new record in the 200. He finished in 19.19 seconds, shaving 0.11 seconds of his previous mark.
Usain appeared to pick up in 2010 where he had left off. Early in the year, he ran a 19.15 in the 200 at an event in Jamaica, logging one of the fastest times in history. That May in Ostrava, Usain decided to make a run at Michael Johnson’s 10-year-old record in the 300 meters, an event that is not typically part of big international meets. Running on a wet track, he strained his Achilles tendon. The injury basically precluded his competing in anything longer than a 100-meter race for the remainder of the season.
After taking a month off, Usain returned to competition. He had good races and great races during the summer, with a lowlight being just his second loss in the 100 (to Gay). A sore back convinced him to cut his year short in August.
Usain returned to form in 2011, but he ended the season with a bit of disappointment when he was disqualified in the 100-meter finals for a false start at the World Athletics Championships. He did blow away the field in the 200, coming just shy of his own world record with a time of 19.4. Usain also competed as part of Jamaica's 4 x 100 relay team and helped set a new record of 37.04. His teammates included Michael Frater, Nesta Carter and Yohan Blake.
Heading into the 2012 summer games, the consensus was that Usain would be the main headline-maker. He was expected to shred the record books once again, thanks to a newly installed Mondo synthetic track at the venue in Stratford. Of course, first he had to make the Jamaican team. In June, he seemed to be in top form, especially after running 9.79 in the 100 to beat Asafa Powell in Oslo. However, the national team finals would yield different results. His friend and training partner, Johan Blake, edged him in both the 100 and 200. Nevertheless, Usain arrived in London as the favorite in both races.
In the 100-meter final, Usain blew away the field. He set a new Olympic record with a time of 9.63, more than a full one-tenth second ahead of Blake, who took the silver. Usain followed that up with a time of 19.84 in the 200 meters, again finishing ahead of Blake. He was so far ahead at the finish he slowed down, turned to the crowd and put his finger to his lips, as if to say, “Stop all the whispering.”
Usain went after his sixth career gold medal a few days later in the 4 x 100 relay. He joined Blake, Michael Frater and Nesta Carter to smash Jamaica’s year-old world record with a time of 36.84 seconds. Afterward, Usain and distance runner Mo Farah swapped their singature celebration poses, with Farah doing the "To the World" and Usain doing the “Mobot.”
The life of a sprinter can be painfully short or surprisingly long. No two are alike. That is especially true for Usain, who breaks the mold for runners in so many ways. For a sport that has suffered repeated body blows over the past decade, track has welcomed Usain as a breath of fresh air. He is a magnificent athlete with a soaring spirit who has made track fans rethink the limits of human achievement.
USAIN THE RUNNER
Usain is not the first sprinter to use a long, lean body to propel him forward. What makes him different is that he moves his ample frame at a rate more suited to a much smaller runner. He takes a startling number of strides between the starting blocks and the finish line. He also has the ability to make up ground after a slow start, which is typical for a sprinter that tall.
Usain has become more and more serious and dedicated about refining his technique. He is meticulous about stride length, head position, breathing and other minute details that can save or cost him hundredths of a second. At the longer distances, Usain’s excellent balance makes him a threat to win any race. If he can steer clear of the run of the mill injuries that sometimes plague sprinters—that includes avoiding car crashes; he’s had two so far—he may keep shaving seconds off his 100 and 200 times.
With the younger Johan Blake pushing him hard, Usain might just make a run at the superhuman 9.5 mark in the 100 before he’s done.
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