Usain Bolt's new autobiography features the sprinting champion's keen sense of humor as he describes his first sporting love of cricket, and how a boxed lunch launched his running career.
Bolt has been riding high even before he torched the rest of the field during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In total, he has won six total gold medals and eight World Championships in dazzling 100-meter and 200-meter races. The Jamaican sprinter describes himself in his Twitter bio as "The most naturally gifted athlete the world has ever seen," and his new autobiography, Usain Bolt: Faster Than Lightning, does nothing to suggest that isn't his actual opinion of himself.
Here are a few highlights of the book.
Cricket was his first love:
Though the island country loves its many sprinters, Bolt grew up almost solely playing cricket instead. Tall and lanky even in first grade, Bolt was slow getting out of the blocks in races and hated to lose. So, he just didn't run. "All the fun I needed came from taking wickets," he explains of his thoughts then. Bolt and his friends often played with a tennis ball or wadded up rubber bands and string.
Soon, though, a teacher took notice of his sprinting potential and asked him to compete in a local race. Bolt refused at first, but then the teacher gave him a nice bribe — a box lunch. "Wow, s**t had got serious!" he writes. Yes, the Jamaican version of a Pizza Lunchable was the true cause of Bolt's rise to the top. He still enjoys cricket, too, as evidenced by the 2009 picture above.
Bolt's is pretty funny:
The sprinter's sense of humor comes through most clearly in the comments he sticks in the footnotes at the bottom of the page. For example, he writes about how in his young days he hardly cared about his education, and he rejected a teacher's suggestion to learn Spanish. The footnote is full of regret: "Damn, if only I'd listened. Over the last few years I've met some of those Spanish girls and a lot of them were seriously beautiful." Sadly for Bolt, he couldn't talk to them in their language. (Not that he needs to say much. "Quieres ver mis medallas?" would probably do the trick.)
He shows off some in another footnote a few pages later. Bolt writes about how his loving mom, a dressmaker, taught him to help stitch and sew clothes. "Now I know what to do if ever I rip a shirt,*" he writes, and the asterisk leads to the following: "Come on man, get serious – I buy a new one." Hey, he never said he was modest.
He once feared for his manhood:
Even when writing about a 2009 car crash, Bolt shows off some of his happy-go-lucky humor. Bolt survives the destructive crash and escapes relatively unscathed, and he understands his safety as a message from God to be more careful. But his interpretation of God is definitely in Bolt's own voice. "Yo Bolt!" God's message said, "I've given you a cool talent, what with this world-record breaking thing and all … Check yourself." The religious Bolt has a cool God.
Bolt suffered only minor injuries in the crash; at the hospital, he received a numbing shot for some pain. As the numbness faded away from his legs, Bolt was more worried about one certain body part, which he describes in glorious detail:
"I felt some tingling in my toes and some sensitivity in my feet and my calves, but there was nothing else.
Oh crap, nothing in my dick.
My knees were good, my thighs, too.
Please, God, there's nothing in my dick. Nothing ...
What the hell is going on with my dick?
When a flash of feeling finally came around, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Forget the car crash — a numb crotch was probably the most stressful situation I'd experienced in my entire life."
Luckily, everything seems to have been okay down there.
Bolt hated training:
Bolt didn't really believe in all that training stuff as a kid. He admits without much guilt that he used to skip his sessions at a running academy to go play Nintendo with friends at the arcade. Instead, he found his own trainer — his dog. Even though his strict parents wouldn't let him leave the house at night, Usain would sneak out to a friend's house when they were out, and he would bring his dog with him. When his dad came back on his motorcycle, the dog's ears would perk up, which Bolt took as a sign to sprint and beat his father home. "In a way, he was giving me a taste of what life would be like in the future," Bolt writes. "My first trainer was a dog. Ridiculous."
Even as he grew into his teens and showed off his top-level in the 200-meter and 400-meter, he channels Allen Iverson in his hatred of practice. A hamstring injury in practice only confirmed in his mind that strenuous training hurt more than it helped. He does adjust as he grows up and the competition increased. But even so, there's a sense of disdain for too much training.
In this way, Faster Than Lighting works as a stark contrast to those typical you-can-do-it-too athlete biographies. Think of Michael Phelps' autobiography The Will to Succeed, in which the swimmer described his grueling six-days-a-week training regimen as a main factor in his many gold medals. If you practice as much as Phelps, you can win gold too! it seems to suggest. For Bolt, though, dominating sprinting wasn't about will or practice. It was all about God-given, all-natural speed. Throughout, Bolt openly disdains most training, and casually brags about how he barely needed to prepare during his run to the top.
Bolt's book could easily be read alongside David Epstein's The Sports Gene, which says success in sports is all about the genes. Now we need one more book to figure out if Bolt's good humor and quips are inherited, too.
(Photos by AP and Reuters)