Usain Bolt is in the business of running again. On Friday night, in the Czech city of Ostrava, the world’s fastest man returns to Europe to do what comes most naturally to him.
You could be excused for thinking the last thing on his mind is running at an Olympic Games when you see him all over British television schmoozing with Sir Richard Branson, sprinting past London landmarks, promoting Jamaica as a holiday destination and having fun and games with Prince Harry.
You would be wrong. The only gold that drives him, he made clear this week, is the one with symbolic value.
“I know what I want and if you have a goal and you want it really bad you have to be really focused,” Bolt said.
“I want to repeat the feat of Beijing. That’s the key, that has my focus,” said Bolt, although he could be forgiven if he had been distracted by his dash for cash.
But his London-based Irish agent Ricky Simms says that, contrary to an impression that Bolt’s ubiquitous presence on screens and in shop windows may give, he has not done a single paid appearance since February. Everything being seen now on TV screens and in print demanded his time between October and January, the only window of opportunity his coach Glen Mills allowed Bolt’s commercial team.
“I have a great team around me. So if I get off track, they are there to make sure everything is limited, regulated. I want to keep everybody happy but the focus is always the Olympics,” added Bolt.
Bolt’s attractiveness to the corporate and media worlds is obvious. He is simply one of the most popular people on the planet. Only this week Facebook revealed he has a fan base of 6.6million, more than half of whom visited his pages in a single week last year.
How much he earns from image rights and endorsements is believed to add up to more than £8million a year. How much more is a guarded secret. Simms publicly said in 2009 that he wanted Bolt to become the first track and field athlete to earn $10million (£6m plus) in a year.
Sources in the marketing world say that Simms and Norman Peart, who manages his affairs from Jamaica, talk only to global companies with seven-figure intentions and willing to commit beyond one year.
Puma, Gatorade and Swiss watchmaker Hublot are his global sponsors. Visa has the right to his name in Europe, Virgin Media in Britain and Ireland, Digicel and headphone maker Soul in the Caribbean. An autobiography has been published, an online game and a mobile app are about to be launched and a BBC documentary is to be screened.
He allows the Jamaica Tourist Board to use his name and image for free. “For his country,” says Simms simply. He has endorsed Regupol, the track manufacturer that laid the surface in the Berlin Olympic Stadium on which he set his world 100 metres record in 2009, in return for laying a track at no cost for his group’s training at the university in Kingston.
On the track he earns at a rate of around $30,000 a second, or $7,300 a stride, alone among athletes in being in the $300,000 appearance range.
For that price a promoter, such as Ostrava’s meet director Jan Zelezny, the three-time Olympic javelin champion, gets just 41 of his massive strides over 100m, lasting hopefully less than 9.80sec.
He will run again for the same fee in Rome next week and in Oslo a week later and finally in July – before the Olympic Games – he will run over 200m in Monte Carlo.
After the Olympics, expect at least another three lucrative races that will take his season’s gross for putting one foot in front of another quickly to more than $2m.
The value he gives is tremendous. In Ostrava he gave a 30-minute media conference but only after spending an hour joshing with primary school kids for the benefit of TV and photographers, starting races and letting six five-year-olds beat him over 60m.
“My jeans were too tight. I’ll wear shorts next time. I don’t like losing any race,” he joked.
Zelezny expects all 21,000 seats in the Mestsky Stadium to be filled on Friday. There are a host of other Olympic and world champions competing but all among them accept that it is Bolt who is the magnet. His 200m rival, the American Wallace Spearmon, described him recently as the “saviour of the sport”.
“A lot of people have said it and I think maybe it’s true. I definitely have done a great deal for the sport. I’ve really worked hard at it,” said Bolt. “After Beijing, I’ve tried hard to put fire into the sport and now, not only me, but others have stepped up to make sure people are watching.
“Most athletes are loosening up like me, really enjoying the sport, so, yes, I think I’ve changed the sport in a better way. It (athletics) is never a pressure for me. It’s just fun. I still enjoy doing it.”
And can he repeat the feat of Beijing by winning both the 100m and 200m in world record times at the Olympics?
“As long as I am in great shape, nobody will beat me in London. That’s for sure,” Bolt concluded. – Daily Mail