Rio Olympics 2016: Usain Bolt's celebrity status reaches peak

Usain Bolt celebrates after winning gold in the final of the 200 metres at the 2012 London Olympics. Photo / New Zealand Herald
Usain Bolt celebrates after winning gold in the final of the 200 metres at the 2012 London Olympics. Photo / New Zealand Herald

The celebrity status of Usain Bolt has reached such feverish levels that even his parents held their own press conference in Rio yesterday.

The showman's health has been a question as he enters his final Olympics nursing a sore hamstring.

His parents, Wellesley and Jennifer Bolt, paid him a brief visit in the athletes village and insisted he's in the shape to claim an unprecedented 'triple-triple' of sprint titles.

Bolt pulled out of his national championships last month because of the hamstring injury, but has insisted he's fine to compete in Brazil.

"He said 'Mom, if I wasn't ready, I wouldn't be here because I'm not into the losing thing. I'm ready,"' said Jennifer.

Bolt is trying to win the 100-metre, 200m and 4x100m relay - just like the last two Olympics - to close his career with nine gold medals.

The 100m final is on Monday (NZ time) and Bolt races in his first heat the day before.

The Bolts spoke to a small group of reporters during a news conference, giving anecdotes from Bolt's childhood and discussing his rise into a global superstar.

Although he was born roughly 10 days past his due date - "the only time in his life he was slow," said Jennifer - he's been fast ever since.

She recognised he might be special three weeks after his birth when he nearly fell off a bed and she noticed him trying to push himself up.

"I thought 'What kind of a child is this? Three weeks old and he's pushing!'"

He was off and running from there. He once had to sprint home from school to collect his forgotten lunch and by 10, he could beat his mother in a race.

Two years later, they knew for certain they had an athlete on their hands.

"At the age of 12, being in primary school, he started to compete in school sports and he was always on top and he was always beating his classmates," Jennifer recalled. "From then, we noticed he would be a great athlete."

He may have inherited his speed from his parents - and father Wellesley took credit for Bolt's dance moves - but the sprinter is a far bigger entertainer.

The Bolts were soft-spoken and almost shy, although they said they appreciated the opportunity to tell reporters about their son.

They still live in the same modest one-story home in Trelawney, Jamaica, and wouldn't dream of moving anywhere else.

Moving would require making new friends and leaving behind what they know. Besides, life in Trelawney has improved significantly since Bolt's first gold medals in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Trelawney now has running water, a paved road, refurbished clinics, health centres and schools and a new playground for kids.

Wellesley still works at the village shop, where he sells as much as he gives away.

"It's something to occupy my time so I don't get lazy," he said. "As parents, we are proud of him, but we don't think it is fair of us to be acting over the head of the rest of the community. So I operate the shop mainly to give away what we have."

They also enjoy Trelawney because Bolt can move freely through the community.

Although he draws a crowd everywhere he goes, they said their son is happy at home.

"People always want to get close to him, not to hurt him, but just get close to him."

She said she has seen no change in her son as his stardom grows. From his debut in the 2002 junior world championships, Jennifer insisted Bolt is still the good child who listens to his parents.

The one thing that did grow, though, was Bolt's love of the spotlight. Although Wellesley characterised him as "playful at home," it wasn't until Bolt took the world stage in Beijing that he realized how much entertainment he could give a crowd.

"In Beijing, he started doing all these things and realized people really liked it," Wellesley said. "That's when he became an entertainer."

Bolt, who turns 30 on August 21, has been adamant these will be his final Olympics. His parents believe him and think he's determined to go out a winner. When he's through competing, they know exactly what they want him to do.

"I would like him to be an ambassador to track and field because he brings fun to the sport," Jennifer said. "After he leaves, you don't know who will take over his role. Without him, it would be really boring."

To claim another three titles Bolt will need to run eight races over seven days as one of the oldest sprinters in the field.

There are questions about whether his body will hold up to such scrutiny but the word around his camp is that he is in shape to run 9.7 in the 100m.

Bolt has said he is aiming to break his own 200m world record of 19.19 set in Berlin in 2009. At his age many think it unlikely he will go that quickly again but the speed of the cutting-edge Mondo track installed in the Joao Havelange Stadium could help.

It is the same surface which has been newly installed in London's Olympic Stadium, where American Kendra Harrison took 0.01sec off a 28-year-old world record in the 100m hurdles last month.

Pocket Rocket aiming to beat Bolt



There's another Jamaican sprinter bidding to make history in Rio.

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is only 1.52m tall, but the 'Pocket Rocket' will, barring an upset, attempt to win a third consecutive gold medal in the women's 100 metres tonight - and become the first female to win three back-to-back Olympic titles on the track.

Known for her explosive start, Fraser-Pryce hopes to beat Bolt to the honour of winning three Olympic gold medals in the 100m. The men's final takes place tomorrow night.

"That 100m would be exciting and so iconic," she said. "Not only for me, but as a female athlete to do it ... and hopefully get in before Usain.

"We've never spoken about it, but of course I'd like to have that. So I can tell him I have something he wants. At least I'd have something over him!"

Jamaica's Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce sported a colourful new hairdo as she became the only woman to break 11 seconds in the women's 100-metre heats in Rio. Photo / AP
Jamaica's Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce sported a colourful new hairdo as she became the only woman to break 11 seconds in the women's 100-metre heats in Rio. Photo / AP

Her efforts got off to a flying start. She was the only woman in the 100-metre heats to break 11 seconds, and did so sporting a spectacular yellow and green hairdo.

Fraser-Pryce, 29, matched Bolt in London by winning the sprint treble - 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay - but one of the world's fastest women has become sadly accustomed to playing second fiddle to her illustrious compatriot.

"I'm over it," she told CNN. "Usain is a tremendous athlete. He's the greatest athlete the world has seen - he has that, nobody can take that away from him. But female athletes have also done great things."

All eyes are on the 100m for Fraser-Pryce because she will not be able to defend her 200m title in Rio after she failed to qualify at the Jamaica's Olympic trials last month.
A serious toe injury on her left foot - which she ranks as 'eight out of 10' on the pain scale - has disrupted her season and forced her to wear cushioning in her spikes during training.

Countrywoman Elaine Thompson and European champion Dafne Schippers from Holland are the favourites for gold in the 100m.

- AP and Daily Mail

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