Usain Bolt: Behind the scenes
Our team met up with spokesman Usain Bolt in Jamaica earlier this year to film a commercial for ENERTOR, our performance insoles that can help anyone break their limits.
Writer Stephen Caldwell was part of the team, and sat down with Usain to talk about his life, his road to Rio and how he broke his limits to reach where he is today. This week, you can get some new insight into Bolt and what makes him tick with our series sharing what Caldwell learned from his time with the world’s fastest man.
Here’s part 1. And before you read, check out the commercial!
Usain Bolt sits comfortably on a narrow wooden box, talking quietly on his cell phone and in some ways looking very much like any other young Jamaican with little else to do on an unusually hot Saturday afternoon in April.
But Bolt isn’t just “any other young Jamaican.” And that’s also clearly evident to anyone who sees him sitting on the box.
For starters, Bolt is wearing a neon green tank top racing singlet, fitted black compression running shorts, and spiked running shoes. Then there’s the fact that the box is in lane six of the track at the University of the West Indies. That’s the “The UWI Usain Bolt Track,” by the way. And, finally, there’s the young Jamaican woman standing next to Bolt holding an umbrella to shade him from the sun.
That last note might give you the impression that Bolt is a pampered superstar, but that’s far from the truth, as well. When you back the frame out and see the full picture in its context – Bolt is simply taking a break between takes of a nearly five-hour commercial shoot – you realize this snapshot represents two very different, yet equally important and powerful sides of Usain Bolt.
In a world where celebrities and superstars often fold from the pressures of life under a microscope or lose themselves in the temptations and trappings that come with success, Bolt embodies a rare mix of contentment and ambition. He holds fast to the traditional Jamaican “chill” approach to life, but his talent and hard work have produced six Olympic gold medals, 11 world championships, and world records in three different events. He remains true to himself – setting his own path and celebrating in his own style – while giving back to his community, valuing the people around him, and treating them respect.
Fellow Jamaican Ziggy Marley, the son of the legendary Bob Marley and a music icon in his own right, says it this way: Bolt “makes music on the track; he runs with great joy, with passion and with soul. He has that smile, that Jamaican flair. It’s a swagger and confidence that we all really enjoy. A lot of people who get to that superstar level pretend to be somebody else. I think that’s the thing I like most about Usain. He’s real. He’s not putting on a facade.” (See Time magazine’s “Time 100 Icons”)
And as it turns out, these are the fruits of his hardscrabble Jamaican roots and, perhaps as much as anything else, the key to his unprecedented success – as a sprinter and as an iconic celebrity.
Bolt arrives at the UWI campus around 12:30 p.m., eats a light meal in a small air conditioned bus, and then sits with me for a short one-on-one interview. He generally trains twice a day during the week, but he cuts back to once on Saturdays so he can spend those afternoons shooting commercials for the various products he endorses – Puma, Gatorade, Virgin Media, Nissan …
Today’s commercial is for Enertor, a new high-tech insole that he’s endorsing. He has a small equity stake in the company, and the product promise cushion his feet, help protect against injury, provide enhanced shock absorption, and offer up to 36 percent energy return. In short, it will help him perform better. So he’ll do some photo shoots, read lines for radio ads, and film his parts in what will be a 30-second television commercial. But there’s also time built into his schedule for two interviews.
I’m fortunate to sit with him for one of his final interviews prior to his third, and probably final, Olympics Games. A writer from GQ will interview him after me, and one from Sports Illustrated will talk to him in June. Otherwise, Bolt will steer clear of lights, cameras, and journalists after today so he can focus more intently on what matters most to him – winning medals in world-record fashion.
“My whole like is been about speed and trying to push myself,” he tells me. “Trying to get better at whatever I do.”
Bolt, simply put, is the fastest human in the world. Not just now. Ever. If anyone claims to be faster, or to have been faster, they can’t prove it. Bolt has the proof. He’s blazing fast. Like, well, a lightning bolt.
He holds the world record in the 100 meters (9.58 seconds), the 200 meters (19.19 seconds), and as a member of the Jamaican 400-meter relay team (36.84 seconds).
He set the record in the 100 meters in May 2008, broke it three months later, and broke it again the following year. He set the record in the 200 in 2008 and then broke it in 2009. And he has anchored the Jamaican team that has set the record in the 4×100 three times, as well.
Bolt, of course, won gold medals in those three events in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games, and he’ll try to sweep them again this August in Rio, where he also hopes to run the 200 in under 19 seconds.
“This year is the only time I’ve really thought much about breaking a record,” he says. “I really want to run under 19 seconds. It’s one of my goals I’ve always wanted to do. Otherwise, I don’t think about records. They just come. The medals matter more to me, so I focus mostly on that.”
Bolt has a knack for doing what’s never been done – like a sub-19 seconds in the 200 meters or nine gold medals in those three sprint events. He is all about challenging the impossible. Consider the bio on his Twitter and Instagram accounts: “Usain St. Leo Bolt: Anything is possible. I don’t think limits.”